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Inside the Matchup
Week 9

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




 Predictions - YTD
Rk Staffer W L %
1 Eakin 21 7 75.0
2 Marcoccio 19 8 70.4
3 Autry 21 9 70.0
4 Smith 19 12 61.3

Falcons @ Colts - (Smith)

IND FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: + 30.3%
IND FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: + 37.7%
IND FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: - 23.9%
IND FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: + 46.4%

Passing Game Thoughts: Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan simply is not having the season that most people figured he would. He has not taken a step forward this year, and instead is just 18th in the NFL with 1,683 passing yards while throwing nine touchdowns and eight interceptions. His play has clearly affected the fantasy status of Roddy White, who was at least a top-five receiver coming into the year, but whose 425 receiving yards so far are fewer than that of Antonio Brown and Darrius Heyward-Bey.

This week, Ryan and White have a chance to make up for some of their shortcomings against a Colts team that is 22nd in the NFL in pass defense. Indy has given up no fewer than 15 fantasy points to every quarterback they’ve played against, with five of the eight having thrown for at least 250 yards. Receivers have also beaten up on them, with five having gained at least 95 receiving yards.

Running Game Thoughts: While Ryan and White are struggling, Michael Turner is having a solid season. He’s seventh in the NFL with 621 rushing yards, and his six rushing scores are tied for fifth in the league. He has gained 261 yards on the ground over his last two contests, and is primed to destroy the Colts.

Indy is 31st in the league against the run, having allowed 144 rushing yards per game, and they’ve allowed 10 rushing scores as well, which is the second-most in football. Six different backs have compiled at least 88 rushing yards against them this season.

Matt Ryan: 260 yds passing, 2 TD
Roddy White: 110 yds receiving, 1 TD
Julio Jones: 65 yds receiving
Tony Gonzalez: 55 yds receiving, 1 TD
Harry Douglas: 25 yds receiving
Michael Turner: 125 yds rushing, 1 TD

ATL FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: + 19.8%
ATL FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: + 31.6%
ATL FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: - 12.5%
ATL FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: - 26.7%

Passing Game Thoughts: Colts quarterback Curtis Painter is not – and could never be – Peyton Manning. But Painter hasn’t been horrific, with five touchdowns and four interceptions, and a quarterback rating of 75.1. But even though Painter has been decent, it’s still been a disaster for Reggie Wayne and Dallas Clark, at least in terms of fantasy numbers. Neither is accomplishing much, and even though Wayne is in the top-20 in receiving yards, he’s scored only one touchdown, and has just a single 100-yard game this year, with each coming in Week 1.

It doesn’t look like it’ll get a lot better this week, at least for Clark. The Falcons are 23rd in the league against the pass, but have held tight ends to just a single touchdown catch all year, and held Greg Olsen, Brandon Pettigrew and Kellen Winslow each below 50 receiving yards. But five receivers have put up games of at least 80 yards, so there is some hope for Wayne, although Pierre Garcon has proven to be Painter’s favorite target.

Running Game Thoughts: Joseph Addai should be back in the fold and ready to go this week, meaning Donald Brown will once again hit the bench, and fantasy owners can part ways with the mostly ineffective Delone Carter. His last two games were decent, but Addai is clearly the better back, and offers more versatility.

We’re not saying fantasy owners should rush to install him in their lineups, however. Not against a Falcons team that is seventh in the NFL in run defense and who hasn’t allowed a 100-yard rusher this year. In fact, Atlanta has only allowed two rushers to gain even 70 yards, and we don’t expect Addai to be the third.

Curtis Painter: 230 yds passing, 2 TD, 2 INT
Pierre Garcon: 80 yds receiving, 1 TD
Reggie Wayne: 65 yds receiving, 1 TD
Dallas Clark: 40 yds receiving
Austin Collie: 30 yds receiving
Joseph Addai: 40 yds rushing / 15 yds receiving
Delone Carter: 20 yds rushing

Prediction: Falcons 27, Colts 14 ^ Top

Buccaneers @ Saints - (Smith)

NO FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: - 11.3%
NO FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: - 4.7%
NO FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: - 25.3%
NO FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: + 4.3%

Passing Game Thoughts: Buccaneers quarterback Josh Freeman has been a big disappointment so far in 2011, with three more interceptions (10) than touchdown passes (seven). He’s particularly struggled over his last three games, as he’s thrown six picks in that time, and hasn’t completed even 57 percent of his passes in one of those contests. And speaking of disappointments, you can count the entirety of the Tampa receiving corps in there. Their leading receiver is Mike Williams, and his 317 yards so far ranks 67th in the NFL, and tied with Arian Foster, a running back who missed two games.

Freeman did play well against the Saints in their match-up from Week 6, with over 300 yards and two touchdowns, but that shouldn’t be wholly unexpected considering that the Saints have allowed 13 touchdown passes this year, which is 27th in the NFL, and three times they’ve allowed a quarterback to throw for over 300 yards with multiple touchdowns.

Running Game Thoughts: LeGarrette Blount will return this week, and just in time considering that Earnest Graham went down for the season with an injury. Blount has missed a couple games due to a knee injury, but will now be an even bigger part of the team’s offense due to Graham’s absence.

Graham ran for 109 yards against the Saints in Week 6, and Blount should be able to do similar damage. New Orleans is 24th in the league against the run, and is allowing opponents to run for 5.5 yards per carry, which is the worst mark in football. Six different backs have picked up at least 80 yards against the Saints, and Steven Jackson ran right through them last week to the tune of 159 yards and two touchdowns.

Josh Freeman: 265 yds passing, 2 TD, 1 INT / 25 yds rushing
Mike Williams: 85 yds receiving, 1 TD
Kellen Winslow: 55 yds receiving
Preston Parker: 50 yds receiving, 1 TD
Arrelious Benn: 40 yds receiving
Dezmon Briscoe: 20 yds receiving
LeGarrette Blount: 110 yds rushing, 1 TD

TB FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: + 9.0%
TB FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: + 14.9%
TB FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: + 42.4%
TB FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: + 23.5%

Passing Game Thoughts: Drew Brees is fourth among quarterbacks, and fourth among all players in fantasy points per game this season. He leads the NFL with 2,746 passing yards for the year, is completing over 70 percent of his throws, and his 19 touchdown passes are tied for second. His weaponry is vast and difficult to contain, and fantasy owners have to be especially thrilled with tight end Jimmy Graham. He’s the number one fantasy tight end this season, and shredded the Bucs for 124 receiving yards the last time these two teams met up.

Tampa has given up five touchdowns to tight ends this season, which is tied for the second-most in the league, so Graham is in line for another outstanding contest. The Buccaneers did allow Brees to throw for 383 yards back in Week 6, but picked him off three times. Still, the team is 26th in the NFL in pass defense, so fantasy owners with Brees, Graham or Marques Colston are drooling over the possibilities.

Running Game Thoughts: Mark Ingram did not play last week in St. Louis, and as of this writing was still questionable for this week. Pierre Thomas got nine carries against the Rams, with Darren Sproles getting six, and Chris Ivory also getting six. Neither of the three did much, which isn’t all that different from the previous match-up of these two teams, when Ingram ran for only 22 yards, Sproles for 16 and Thomas for 11.

Tampa’s run defense is only 23rd in the league, but they’ve had a very difficult schedule of running backs to face. Adrian Peterson, Matt Forte and Frank Gore each bested them for at least 120 yards, but those are three of the top six runners in the league in terms of yards this season.

Drew Brees: 330 yds passing, 3 TD, 1 INT
Jimmy Graham: 100 yds receiving, 2 TD
Marques Colston: 70 yds receiving, 1 TD
Lance Moore: 50 yds receiving
Robert Meachem: 30 yds receiving
Devery Henderson: 15 yds receiving
Pierre Thomas: 35 yds rushing, 1 TD / 15 yds receiving
Mark Ingram: 30 yds rushing
Darren Sproles: 20 yds rushing / 45 yds receiving

Prediction: Saints 34, Buccaneers 24

Browns @ Texans - (Smith)

HOU FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: - 27.7%
HOU FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: - 19.8%
HOU FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: - 50.5 %
HOU FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: - 19.7%

Passing Game Thoughts: Browns quarterback Colt McCoy is having an okay year, but not one that will make fantasy owners sit up and take notice. He’s completing just 57 percent of his throws, and has nine touchdowns to just five interceptions, but is averaging only 5.6 yards per attempt, which is 32nd among 33 qualified passers. But part of the reason for that is he has so few offensive weapons to throw to. Rookie receiver Greg Little is starting to get a lot of looks, having received 11 targets last week, but he only caught four of those throws for 28 yards. Tight end Ben Watson is really the only offensive player in Cleveland’s passing game that should be considered for a fantasy team roster spot, and then only as a back-up.

Cleveland will face a Texans pass defense that is fifth in the league, and has held opposing quarterbacks to a completion percentage of just 50.8, which is the lowest in the NFL. Only two quarterbacks have thrown for even 210 yards against Houston this year, and just three have gotten over the 200-yard mark.

Running Game Thoughts: Madden cover boy Peyton Hillis is expected to return this week, and maybe now he can start to reward his fantasy owners for the faith they put in him during the draft. Hillis has only played four games this season due to injury, but he wasn’t playing that well even when he has suited up. His only two touchdowns came against the Colts, and his only game with at least 60 rushing yards also came against Indy. Hillis has just 211 rushing yards all season.

It will be tough for him to get going in this contest as well, because the Texans are sixth in the league against the run, and though they’ve allowed two backs to gain 100 yards, those are the only two who have even topped 65 yards against them.

Colt McCoy: 205 yds passing, 1 TD, 1 INT
Greg Little: 50 yds receiving, 1 TD
Mohamed Massaquoi: 45 yds receiving
Ben Watson: 40 yds receiving
Josh Cribbs: 25 yds receiving
Evan Moore: 15 yds receiving
Peyton Hillis: 60 yds rushing, 1 TD / 20 yds receiving

CLE FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: - 30.3%
CLE FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: - 37.0%
CLE FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: + 30.6 %
CLE FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: - 18.6%

Passing Game Thoughts: Matt Schaub has put together a solid season, ranking eighth in the league with 2,118 passing yards, and tied for seventh in the NFL with 13 touchdown throws. He very well could get all-world receiver Andre Johnson back this week, which would make life much easier for Schaub. In Johnson’s absence, Kevin Walter and Jacoby Jones have been good, but Schaub has also leaned heavily on throwing to running back Arian Foster and tight end Owen Daniels.

Daniels could be in store for a good game against the Browns, who struggle to stop opposing tight ends. But other than their penchant for allowing tight ends to beat them, Cleveland has been very good in pass defense. They are second in the league in that statistic, and only two quarterbacks have accumulated 200 passing yards, and just once have they allowed multiple touchdown passes.

Running Game Thoughts: The aforementioned Foster is third at the running back position in fantasy points per game this year, and though he missed two games, he’s ninth in the league in rushing yards. He does more than just run the ball, however, as Foster has also had two games in which he has over 100 receiving yards. Now that Johnson is returning, Foster isn’t likely to rack up any more 100-yard receiving games out of the backfield, but he’ll still do some damage in that regard.

But the real damage against Cleveland is likely to come with Foster toting the rock. The Browns are 26th in the NFL in run defense, and have allowed a running back to gain at least 90 yards on the ground in five of their seven games this season. Foster is almost certainly going to be the sixth back to accomplish the feat.

Matt Schaub: 240 yds passing, 1 TD
Owen Daniels: 80 yds receiving, 1 TD
Andre Johnson: 60 yds receiving
Kevin Walter: 35 yds receiving
Jacoby Jones: 25 yds receiving
Arian Foster: 115 yds rushing, 2 TD / 30 yds receiving

Prediction: Texans 27, Browns 20

Bengals @ Titans - (Smith)

TEN FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: + 25.9%
TEN FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: - 4.6%
TEN FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: + 79.6%
TEN FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: + 31.0%

Passing Game Thoughts: Rookie wideout A.J. Green has been a boon to the fantasy owners that took a chance on the rookie wideout, despite all the evidence that suggests first-year receivers are often wastes of a fantasy roster spot. But he’s been the exception, and is currently ninth among wide receivers in fantasy points per game. Rookie quarterback Andy Dalton has joined him in exceeding expectations, with nearly 1,500 passing yards, a solid ratio (for a rookie) of nine touchdowns to seven interceptions, and a quarterback rating of 82.7.

The Titans are 17th in the NFL against the pass, but a lot of that stems from their work in the initial few games of the season. Over their past four games, Tennessee has allowed at least 250 passing yards or multiple touchdowns to each quarterback they’ve faced, and they’ve also been burnt by tight ends. In those same four games, a tight end has either caught a touchdown pass or gained at least 75 receiving yards.

Running Game Thoughts: Running back Cedric Benson missed the Bengals last game due to a suspension, but he’ll return and take over his role as the lead back. He’s had a decent year, with 458 rushing yards, but has only scored twice and is averaging less than 4.0 yards per carry.

Benson could see that average go up in this game, because the Titans are just 27th in the NFL in run defense, allowing nearly 130 yards per game on the ground. They’ve allowed an opposing back to accumulate at least 10 fantasy points on six occasions this season, and have also allowed three receiving scores to running backs.

Andy Dalton: 210 yds passing, 2 TD, 2 INT
A.J. Green: 80 yds receiving, 1 TD
Jermaine Gresham: 55 yds receiving, 1 TD
Jerome Simpson: 40 yds receiving
Andre Caldwell: 25 yds receiving
Cedric Benson: 85 yds rushing

CIN FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: - 22.1%
CIN FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: - 3.0%
CIN FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: - 38.8%
CIN FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: - 11.3%

Passing Game Thoughts: Matt Hasselbeck has turned in a good performance so far for Tennessee, even though he lost his number one receiver in Kenny Britt. Hasselbeck has thrown for 11 touchdowns, which is tied for 10th in the NFL, and has at least one scoring pass in each game this season. Tennessee does not possess great weapons on the outside, with Nate Washington being the team’s leading receiver. In fact, Britt is still number two on the team in receiving yards despite not having played since Week 3.

The Bengals have a very good defense, and against the pass they are ninth in the league. More impressively, they’ve only given up six touchdown throws this season, which is the third-fewest in the NFL. Only once has an opposing quarterback thrown for more than 225 yards against them, and that was last week when Seattle’s Tarvaris Jackson accomplished the feat. They also haven’t allowed multiple touchdown passes in a game since Week 2.

Running Game Thoughts: How bad has Chris Johnson been this season? Well, to put it in some perspective, he is averaging fewer fantasy points per game than the likes of James Starks, Marshawn Lynch and Tim Hightower. His 302 rushing yards are the same amount that Jackie Battle has, and is fewer than Delone Carter and Cam Newton. He’s running for just 2.8 yards per carry, which is dead last among 49 qualified players (6.25 attempts per game).

Though it’s certainly possible, don’t look for Johnson to get well in this game. The Bengals are second in the NFL in run defense, and tied for second fewest yards per attempt allowed at 3.3. Only one opposing back has gained more than 85 yards against Cincy, and they have held some very good opposing runners in check – Fred Jackson gained 66 yards against them, Peyton Hillis gained 57, and Frank Gore managed only 42.

Matt Hasselbeck: 210 yds passing, 2 TD, 1 INT
Nate Washington: 65 yds receiving, 1 TD
Damian Williams: 55 yds receiving, 1 TD
Jared Cook: 30 yds receiving
Lavelle Hawkins: 15 yds receiving
Chris Johnson: 55 yds rushing, 1 TD / 20 yds receiving
Javon Ringer: 30 yds rushing / 15 yds receiving

Prediction: Titans 21, Bengals 20

Jets @ Bills - (Marcoccio)

BUF FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: +9.2%
BUF FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: +3.9%
BUF FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: +8.9%
BUF FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: -3.2%

Passing Game Thoughts: Since the Sunday Night disaster in Baltimore, the Jets coaching staff has been hesitant to unleash Mark Sanchez and the passing game, except for when the team has needed to play catch-up. Sanchez, however, has thrown seven touchdowns in the Jets’ last three games, including three to Plaxico Burress against San Diego prior to the team’s bye week. Before that game, Burress was mostly ineffective during his first season back from prison, and even in that game he caught only four balls for minimum yardage. Of course, he did show that he could still be a legit red-zone threat due to his size and strength. Going forward, including this week, the team will continue its commitment to the run game, which will limit the overall passing statistics. That doesn’t make the Jets receivers useless for fantasy purposes, however, as the team will still need to pass and has talented skill-position players; but it does limit their potential.

The Bills shut down John Beck last week, but it’s unclear whether they have turned a corner, since Beck has shown to be no more than a journeyman at the NFL level, and since the Redskins were missing Santana Moss and Chris Cooley as targets. Despite last week’s smothering of the Washington passing attack, the Bills are ranked 24th against the pass and are allowing 264.9 ypg and 10 TDs on the season. What the team has been able to do, however, is create turnovers with their ball-hawking style, accruing 14 interceptions on the season, with three being returned for touchdowns. Mark Sanchez has been sloppy with the ball at times throughout his career, and if he continues that trend, the Bills’ perch atop the AFC East may not be so short-lived.

Running Game Thoughts: Since Rex Ryan announced his intention to return the Jets back to their “ground and pound” identity on offense, the line has done a much better job of creating running lanes for Shonn Greene—and Green has done a more than adequate job of exploiting them. He started the year slowly, but is gaining steam and finally broke the 100-yard barrier against San Diego in their last game. My guess is that Greene will have doubled his number of 100-yard games on the season following this Sunday’s game.

The Bills have presented an easy matchup for running backs for much of this season, but they held the Washington backs in check last week. The team moved rookie defensive tackle Marcell Dareus inside to nose tackle with very positive results for both the team’s pass defense (he recorded a pair of sacks) and run defense (26 rushing yards allowed). Following the bye week, Nick Mangold should be fully recovered from the high ankle sprain he suffered earlier this season and will be a key part in controlling Dareus at the line and keeping the Jets running game motoring.

Mark Sanchez: 245 yds passing, 2 TDs, 2 Ints. / 10 yds rushing
Santonio Holmes: 75 yds receiving, 1 TD
Plaxico Burress: 45 yds receiving, 1 TD
Jeremy Kerley: 30 yards receiving
Dustin Keller: 50 yds receiving
Shonn Greene: 105 yds rushing, 1 TD / 5 yds receiving
LaDainian Tomlinson: 20 yds rushing / 30 yds receiving

NYJ FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: -34.0%
NYJ FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: -35.1%
NYJ FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: +4.6%
NYJ FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: +13.8%

Passing Game Thoughts: The Bills may be getting some help at wide receiver, as Donald Jones has returned to practice this week. In his absence, slot receiver David Nelson was moved to the outside, with Naaman Roosevelt manning the slot. Neither player established himself in their new roles, and Jones should be back in his starting spot as soon as he’s healthy. Tight end Scott Chandler added to his remarkable season by catching two touchdown passes to match the Bills’ all-time record for touchdown receptions by a tight end, which is currently six. What makes it remarkable is that Chandler has only 15 receptions on the season, so he makes those catches count. While that kind of touchdown-to-catch ratio is unsustainable, Chandler does make a legit option for those in dire bye-week straits this week. Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick was rewarded with a contract extension this week and continues to be a starting option for fantasy owners, given his solid week-in, week-out production with big game potential sprinkled in. While this is a tough matchup, Fitzpatrick managed a decent fantasy day against the Jets in the one game he faced them last season (128-2-0 with 74 yards rushing).

Stevie Johnson owners, beware of Revis Island. Opposing quarterbacks have a 2.9 passer rating when throwing at Darrelle Revis this season. He has allowed just 10 receptions and no touchdowns while covering the opponents' No. 1 receiver on a weekly basis. It’s remarkable what he has been able to achieve, and while it’s always difficult to bench a productive player, owners will need to strongly assess their other options for this week. Overall, the Jets rank seventh against the pass, allowing only 196.4 ypg with four touchdowns and 11 interceptions. You could probably do better than starting any member of the Bills’ passing attack this week.

Running Game Thoughts: Fred Jackson is already at 1,074 total yards from scrimmage this year, second only to Matt Forte. He has proven to be one of the most complete backs in the league and has easily held off the “challenge” from C.J. Spiller for his starting spot. The Bills O-line had been pretty poor for years, but this season they have gelled as a unit and have been opening holes for Jackson instead of making him do all the work to gain yards, as was the case in the past. The team should look to exploit the Jets’ weakness in stopping the run while at the same time avoid its strength of defending the pass and creating turnovers. Jackson may be the only startable Bill this week.

The Jets’ third-ranked run defense of 2010 has fallen on hard times in 2011; they are now ranked 25th, allowing 126.9 ypg and 9 TDs. They have looked better in their last two games (against Miami and San Diego), but linebackers David Harris and Bart Scott have looked a step slower, and the young defensive lineman have had difficulties getting off of their blocks at times. The team will need to focus its attention on Fred Jackson this week, and Rex Ryan has an 0-2 record following the bye—the two weeks to prepare for the task should work to his advantage.

Ryan Fitzpatrick: 185 yds passing 1 TD, 2 Ints. / 30 yds rushing
Steve Johnson: 25 yds receiving
Donald Jones: 45 yds receiving
David Nelson: 30 yds receiving
Scott Chandler: 30 yds receiving, 1 TD
Fred Jackson: 85 yds rushing, 1 TD / 10 yds receiving
C.J. Spiller: 15 yards rushing / 35 yds receiving

Prediction: Jets 27, Bills 20

Giants @ Patriots - (Marcoccio)

NE FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: +13.8%
NE FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: +18.2%
NE FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: -69.4%
NE FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: -0.7%

Passing Game Thoughts: Eli Manning proclaimed on local New York radio earlier this season that he was an elite quarterback on the same level as Tom Brady. This week he gets to try to back it up in a head-to-head matchup with Tom Terrific. Mario Manningham finally had his breakout game for 2011—albeit with a few bad drops as well. Victor Cruz continues to impress as a big-play threat and may see his role increased if Hakeem Nicks’ hamstring injury turns out to be worse that it is currently being reported. The Giants will need Nicks if they hope to compete with the Pats’ high-flying offense.

An already poor secondary was further depleted when the team placed rookie Ras I Dowling on IR and released veteran Leigh Bodden before their game against Pittsburgh. The Patriots have been the worst pass defense in the NFL this season, allowing an incredible 323.1 ypg. To put that in perspective, they have allowed 34.2 more yards per game than the 31st-ranked Green Bay Packers. Of course, what both those teams have in common is their offenses’ ability to put up points in a hurry, forcing their opponents to put the ball in the air in an attempt to catch up. But Patriots can’t rely on excuses and must find a way to turn things around if they hope to be a true Super Bowl contender. There is a real chance that things are going to get worse before they get better.

Running Game Thoughts: Brandon Jacobs complained to the media last week about his role with the team and then went out and had a terrible performance, gaining only 10 yards with a fumble (which he recovered) and a dropped pass. Ahmad Bradshaw reinjured the foot that has caused him many issues during his career and has been ruled out indefinitely. Jacobs will now get his wish for more carries, whether he earned it or not. D.J. Ware is expected to back up Jacobs and may see time as the third-down back. The offensive line still hasn’t completely gelled after some offseason changes, and as a result, the Giants’ running game just hasn’t been as dominant as it once was.

The Pats are allowing 101.5 ypg and have given up five touchdowns on the season. While opponents haven’t always had the option to run on New England because they’ve fallen behind quickly and need to pass to keep up, the 4.3 yards per carry allowed shows that the Patriots can be run on when opponents try. Vince Wilfork is still one of the better run-defending defensive linemen, but the addition of Albert Haynesworth has not given the team the impact that many thought it would.

Eli Manning: 345 yds passing 2 TDs, 1 Int.
Hakeem Nicks: 30 yds receiving
Mario Manningham: 90 yds receiving
Victor Cruz: 70 yds receiving
Jake Ballard: 45 yds receiving, 1 TD
Danny Ware: 25 yds rushing / 25 yds receiving
Brandon Jacobs: 85 yards rushing, 1 TD / 15 yds receiving

NYG FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: -3.4%
NYG FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: +9.6%
NYG FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: -69.4%
NYG FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: +40.2%

Passing Game Thoughts: While it’s hard to argue with the results of the Patriots’ passing offense thus far this season, it does seem that having the deep threat target they lack would only help. Chad Ochocinco hasn’t been that player, whether it’s due to an erosion of his skills or his inability to master the Patriots’ complicated playbook—most likely a little bit of both. The team thrives on the underneath routes run by its pair of second-year tight ends and slot man extraordinaire, Wes Welker. A field stretcher would open up the underneath stuff even more. Tom Brady is the master at finding his open man and getting the ball just where it needs to be, which covers up whatever flaws may exist. However, it’s not like Pat fans or fantasy owners can really complain about the passing game results.

The key to the Giants’ last victory over the Patriots (I’m sure you all remember that one) was the constant pressure they put on Tom Brady. In fact, most of the teams that have had success stopping Brady have been able to harass him in the pocket—where he’s used to having enough time to make a sandwich as he scans the field for an open man. The Giants are still more than capable of applying pressure on opposing quarterbacks and will need to do so on Sunday. Otherwise, the very thin secondary will have some major issues.

Running Game Thoughts: Surprisingly, the 35-year-old veteran Kevin Faulk came off the PUP list and was immediately the Pats’ leading ball carrier in Week 8, seeing more snaps than any of their other backs. Faulk received six carries and caught five passes. His presence makes an already crowded backfield even more of a quagmire for fantasy owners. It’s hard to start any New England back with any confidence, even though the Patriots can run the ball (when they choose to) very effectivly due to their excellent run blocking.

The Giants’ run defense is in such bad shape that even Reggie Bush went for over 100 rushing yards against them last week. If a couple of one-yard touchdown runs hadn’t been vultured by Matt Moore and Steve Slaton, Bush would have joined Beanie Wells, Marshawn Lynch, and Fred Jackson as backs who have gone for over 100 yards and at least one touchdown against the Giants over the last four games. Unfortunately for fantasy owners, it’s unclear which New England back could be the next in line to exploit the Giants’ shoddy tackling and inability to stuff running lanes.

Tom Brady: 345 yds passing 3 TDs
Chad Ochocinco: 15 yds receiving
Wes Welker: 105 yds receiving, 1 TD
Deion Branch: 40 yds receiving
Aaron Hernandez: 70 yds receiving, 1 TD
Rob Gronkowski: 65 yds receiving, 1 TD
BenJarvis Green-Ellis: 65 yds rushing, 1 TD / 15 yds receiving
Kevin Faulk: 30 yds rushing / 25 yds receving

Prediction: Patriots 34, Giants 24

49ers @ Redskins - (Marcoccio)

WAS FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: +8.1%
WAS FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: -16.2%
WAS FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: +10.9%
WAS FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: -3.9%

Passing Game Thoughts: Alex Smith has played the game manager’s role perfectly for the Forty-Niners this season. Perhaps with Michael Crabtree finally looking healthy, and with offseason acquisition Braylon Edwards retuning to the lineup, Smith will be asked to open it up a little more. That’s not likely, however, since this team is built on a strong defense and running game. But at least Smith will have some weapons to use if the team ever needs to air it out because they’ve fallen behind.

The Redskins enter Week 9 as the 12th-ranked pass defense in yards allowed per game (223.1), and they have allowed seven passing touchdowns in their seven games. They have improved from last season in their ability to rush the passer and rank fifth in the league with 23 sacks. The pressure hasn’t resulted in many turnovers, however, and they will need to win the turnover battle this week if they hope to get back into the win column.

Running Game Thoughts: After a slow start this season, veteran Frank Gore was left for dead in the fantasy community. However, he has gone for over 125 yards and a score in each of his last four games and is now one of the best fantasy options out there. The team will continue to feed Gore the ball as they look to control the clock and let their defense keep them in the game. Rookie Kendall Hunter provides a nice change-of-pace spark and adds an element of speed to an offense that doesn’t have much outside of its tight end position.

Washington is allowing 120.4 ypg and six TDs on the ground through their first seven games. Barry Coefield provides a strong presence that helps the interior line, which has also helped the team better adjust to the 3-4 scheme than they did last season. At an age (36) when most linebackers are washed up, London Fletcher continues to lead the team in tackles. The Redskins will gear their efforts to stopping Gore and Hunter and making Alex Smith try to beat them. Of course, most teams have tried to take a similar path and have failed.

Alex Smith: 195 yds passing, 1 TD, 1 Int. / 15 yds rushing
Michael Crabtree: 75 yds receiving, 1 TD
Braylon Edwards: 45 yds receiving
Vernon Davis: 70 yds receiving
Frank Gore: 85 yds rushing, 1 TD / 25 yds receiving
Kendall Hunter: 20 yds rushing / 15 yds receiving

SF FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: +14.4%
SF FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: -0.5%
SF FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: +26.0%
SF FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: -38.4%

Passing Game Thoughts: There’s an old saying in the NFL that speaks to quarterback training camp battles: “If you have two quarterbacks, you don’t have any.” Well, the winner of Washington’s training-camp battle, Rex Grossman, has already been benched for backup John Beck, who has now compiled two uninspiring weeks in a row. In fact, he was downright awful versus the Bills last week. The loss of Santana Moss and Chris Cooley didn’t help the Redskins’ passing game, but 208 passing yards with two interceptions for Beck just isn’t going to cut it. Jabar Gaffney and Fred Davis should still be fantasy options, especially in PPR leagues, but the Redskins’ passing game isn’t going to win anyone their fantasy bowls this year. Surprisingly, this week Mike Shanahan said there’s been nothing wrong with the play calling by his offensive coordinator. His OC, of course, is his son Kyle. Can anyone say “nepotism”? In all fairness to Kyle, the talent just isn’t there on offense.

San Francisco has been devastating against the run, leaving teams no choice but to pass against them. So the 255.7 ypg they have allowed through the air isn’t really all that bad. They have been able to put pressure on opposing quarterbacks (21 sacks) and have forced turnovers (9 interceptions), so it’s hard to label their pass defense as poor. John Beck will definitely need to step up his game this week.

Running Game Thoughts: This section of the piece has been getting harder and harder to write each week, as Shanahan has been up to his old tricks in rotating his running backs. But the running game has been totally ineffective the last two weeks, anyway. The team claimed former Cowboy Tashard Choice off of waivers this week, but his hamstring issues will keep him out of action. The rotation the last couple of weeks has been mostly Ryan Torain on running downs and Roy Helu on passing downs, and since the Skins have fallen behind early in their last two games, Torain has been completely ineffective. The nature of this game, which should be a defensive battle, may allow Torain to get a decent number of carries, but just be aware …

San Francisco is the No. 1 rush defense in the NFL. The team allows only 73.4 rushing yards per game and has not allowed a single rushing touchdown this season. Not one. You really don’t want to start a Washington RB this week.

John Beck: 215 yds passing, 1 TD, 1 INT / 30 yards rushing
Anthony Armstrong: 30 yds receiving
Jabar Gaffney: 55 yds receiving
Niles Paul: 15 yards receiving
Fred Davis: 65 yds receiving, 1 TD
Roy Helu: 20 yds rushing / 20 yds receiving
Ryan Torain: 55 yds rushing

Prediction: 49ers 20, Redskins 10

Seahawks @ Cowboys - (Marcoccio)

DAL FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: +4.0%
DAL FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: -4.6%
DAL FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: +62.8%
DAL FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: -10.6%

Passing Game Thoughts: The team tried desperately to let starting quarterback Tarvaris Jackson rest his torn pectoral muscle on the sidelines in Week 8, but Charlie Whitehurst performed so poorly that coach Pete Carroll had to pull him in favor of Jackson. When an injured Jackson is a better option than you, it’s time to start evaluating your career prospects. Jackson still hasn’t matured into the starting-caliber quarterback that Brad Childress thought he could be when he drafted him for the Vikings, but he’s the best option that Seattle has right now. Jackson doesn’t make good decisions and doesn’t have tremendous accuracy, but he’s athletic and possesses a strong arm. That strong arm combined with Jackson’s ability to buy time works well for No. 1 wide receiver Sidney Rice, who has great deep speed and is able to leap and attack the ball in the air as well as any receiver in the game. The Seattle passing game has been very hit-or-miss all season—mostly miss—but there is always big-game potential for Rice. The rest of the crew should be avoided at all costs. Big Mike Williams has all but disappeared from NFL and fantasy relevance after having resurrected his career last season while reuniting with his college coach, and tight end Zach Miller has been nothing more than a glorified extra left tackle for the Hawks. Dallas has allowed opposing tight ends to score 62.8 percent more than the average production against them. If there’s ever a week for Miller to breakout, it would be this one. Still, I wouldn’t count on it.

Despite being banged up for most of the season, the Dallas secondary has still managed to rank as a middle-of-the-road passing defense, allowing 234.4 ypg and 11 TDs on the season. They managed to stall all of the momentum they gained from two consecutive excellent performances, including one against Tom Brady, by getting picked apart by Michael Vick last week. Tarvaris Jackson should get them back on the right path this week though.

Running Game Thoughts: Marshawn Lynch has been one of the more frustrating backs to watch over the last five years. At times he looks brilliant and flashes the skills that made him the 12th overall pick back in 2007. Most of the time, however, he looks mediocre and pedestrian. In his favor for fantasy players, he’s basically the only show in Seattle. However, his poor games outweigh his good days, making him a bye-week option at best in all but the deepest of leagues.

The Cowboys’ aggressive run blitzes have kept all opposition runners in check this season. They are currently a top 5 ranked run defense in the NFL giving up only 93.9 ypg and just 4 rushing TDs on the season. It isn’t like the team has fattened up their statistics by facing inferior rushing attacks—the team has performed well and has faced many of the better rushing attacks in the league. This all does not bode well for Seattle.

Tarvaris Jackson: 235 yds passing, 1 TD, 1 Int. / 25 yds rushing
Sidney Rice: 80 yds receiving, 1 TD
Doug Baldwin: 45 yds receiving
Ben Obomanu: 20 yds receiving
Zach Miller: 20 yds receiving
Marshawn Lynch: 75 yds rushing / 15 yds receiving
Leon Washington: 10 yds rushing / 15 yds receiving

SEA FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: +7.4%
SEA FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: +8.5%
SEA FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: +19.7%
SEA FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: -16.0%

Passing Game Thoughts: Following some early season meltdowns, head coach Jason Garrett has been far too conservative in his offensive game plans while trying to take some pressure off Tony Romo and the passing game. Miles Austin, Dez Bryant, and Jason Witten are just too talented a trio of receivers for opposing defenses to deal with, but they should be performing far better than they have in recent weeks. Romo, for all of his flaws, has one of the quickest releases in the league and a strong enough arm to put the ball into tight coverage. The fact that his receivers are so big and strong should also allow for him to get them the ball even when they are not wide open. Romo is at his best when he’s allowed to be a free-spirited gunslinger, not when he’s forced to play the role of game manager. Coach Garrett has to learn to take the good with the bad when it comes to Romo; and he has to let Romo be himself again. This conservative approach just doesn’t make any sense based on the strong personnel they have.

The Seahawks have been hit hard with injuries in their secondary but have been respectable against the pass, allowing 237.1 ypg and eight TDs on the season. Their two safeties, Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas, have been consistently solid performers and could keep Jason Witten in check. However, Witten’s presence will require them to leave single coverage on Austin and Bryant at times, and Romo will need to take advantage of those opportunities.

Running Game Thoughts: Replacing the injured Felix Jones, rookie DeMarco Murray rushed for the most yards in Dallas Cowboys’ history (256) during his first start. He followed it up with a respectable 76-yard effort in a game where the Cowboys fell behind early and needed to abandon the run. Starter Felix Jones has not practiced yet this week, but there’s much speculation that Murray likely did enough to retain a major role in the running game, even after Jones returns. Even head coach Jason Garrett has hinted as much. Murray is solidly built and tough to tackle, especially when he gets a head of steam behind his elite straight-line speed. He may not make you miss, but he’ll make you pay for tackling him.

After facing a terrible St. Louis run defense and a Philly run defense only a slight step up from terrible, Murray will finally meet a legitimate challenge. The Seahawks are allowing only 102.9 ypg and five TDs on the season. They have played the run tough, and unlike last season, they have done so even on the road.

Tony Romo: 275 yds passing 2 TDs, 1 Int. / 20 yards rushing
Miles Austin: 95 yds receiving, 1 TD
Dez Bryant: 60 yds receiving
Jason Witten: 30 yds receiving
Phillip Tanner: 35 yds rushing / 5 yds receiving
DeMarco Murray: 70 yards rushing, 1 TD / 35 yards receiving

Prediction: Cowboys 24, Seahawks 13

Bears @ Eagles - (Marcoccio)

PHI FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: -6.9%
PHI FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: -10.9%
PHI FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: -17.4%
PHI FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: -6.5%

Passing Game Thoughts: Tons of people, including some current and former NFL players, questioned Jay Cutler’s toughness after he left the NFC title game with a knee injury. But the guy is tough, as evidenced by his ability to stay on the field despite taking more devastating hits each week than the average quarterback. Mike Martz is simply not concerned with blocking schemes, and the Bears O-line just isn’t any good. As a result, the Bears’ best all-around receiver, Johnny Knox, loses a big part of his game, his ability to get deep, because Cutler rarely has time to wait for the play to develop downfield. Outside of Knox, the Bears send out a kick returner and a has-been to catch Cutler’s passes. Devin Hester shows flashes of big-play ability, but he would be better served as a role player rather than being forced into the No. 1 wideout role. Roy Williams has been every bit the disappointment his career has declined into over the last several years. This team needs to prioritize the position this offseason, but for now they should all be avoided in fantasy circles.

The Eagles all-star secondary unit is starting to round into shape after a slow start to the season. The rest of the NFC East may regret not burying the Eagles when they had their shot, as the team looks to be on the rise. With the Eagles secondary and Cutler’s penchant for turnovers, Martz and Lovie Smith may be wise to further pull back the reigns on the passing game and exploit the Eagles weakness, stopping the power running game. To his credit, Martz has adapted from his pass-happy style and has played to his team’s strengths. This week he’ll need to continue on that path.

Running Game Thoughts: Matt Forte leads all running backs in total yards and has been the Bears offense in 2011. He may not have elite skills as a runner, but he’s got tremendous vision and takes what his blockers and the defense gives him. His acceleration and quickness, for his size, also allows for big-play ability despite his lack of top-level speed. Forte is a workhorse that the Bears will need to keep riding if they have any hope of slowing the Philly train down.

The Eagles have been abysmal against opposing running backs all season, but they have fared better in recent weeks. The team is allowing 118.3 ypg and six TDs on the season. They’ve been particularly susceptible to power running games up the middle, and while Forte isn’t a traditional power back, he is big and strong enough to be effective against the soft middle of the Eagles defense.

Jay Cutler: 235 yds passing 1 TD, 1 Int. / 10 yds rushing
Devin Hester: 45 yds receiving
Johnny Knox: 55 yds receiving
Roy Williams: 30 yds receiving
Kellen Davis: 40 yds receiving, 1 TD
Marion Barber III: 35 yds rushing, 1 TD / 5 yds receiving
Matt Forte: 90 yards rushing, 1 TD / 45 yards receiving

CHI FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: +20.0%
CHI FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: +11.0%
CHI FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: +41.8%
CHI FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: -36.2%

Passing Game Thoughts: After some early season struggles, Michael Vick and the Eagles passing game is now hitting on all cylinders. Surprisingly, Vick has been asked to stay in the pocket even more this season and has yet to score a single rushing touchdown. After seeing Vick knocked out of games twice during the early part of the season, and seeing what backups Vince Young and Mike Kafka brought to the table, I guess Andy Reid is determined to keep Vick healthy. Tight end Brent Celek had been asked to stay in and block on a large percentage of the Eagles’ passing plays early this season, but he is starting to be worked more and more into the offense and is coming off his best game of the season.

The once mighty Bears defense has let age and injuries catch up to them. The passing defense in particular has been a very disappointing unit this season. Chicago is allowing 271.9 yards and nearly two TDs per game through the air, placing them in the bottom five pass defenses in the league.

Running Game Thoughts: LeSean McCoy is having an MVP-caliber season, and Andy Reid has finally made the run a big part of the Eagles’ offensive game plan. McCoy has 754 rushing yards on the season, along with eight touchdowns on the ground. I can’t imagine that anyone saw McCoy having an eight against zero rushing touchdown advantage over Vick this season. McCoy is also a large part of the passing game, grabbing 23 receptions for 138 yards and another two touchdowns.

The Bears will need to pick their poison between selling out to stop the run or allowing the Eagles’ speedy wide receivers to burn them deep. Their run defense has been relatively strong (108.7 ypg, 4 TDs), but the Eagles present a problem most other teams do not by having Michael Vick in the backfield. While the Bears were able to hold Cam Newton to only 35 yards rushing when the faced another quarterback that could use his legs as weapons, Newton did manage to score twice on the ground.

Michael Vick: 295 yds passing, 2 TDs, 1 Int. / 45 yards rushing, 1 TD
DeSean Jackson: 70 yds receiving, 1 TD
Jeremy Maclin: 75 yds receiving, 1 TD
Jason Avant: 20 yds receiving
Brent Celek: 40 yds receiving
LeSean McCoy: 75 yds rushing / 55 yds receiving
Dion Lewis: 10 yds rushing / 15 yds receiving

Prediction: Eagles 27, Bears 24

Ravens @ Steelers - (Autry)

PIT FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: -33.5%
PIT FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: -34.1%
PIT FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: -66.5%
PIT FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: -7.7%

Passing Game Thoughts: It’s been a feast or famine year for Joe Flacco in 2011. He has two 3-TD passing games this year but only two in the remaining three games combined. The good news however, is that one of his 3-TD gems was week one against these very same Pittsburgh Steelers. Anquan Boldin has upped his production of late, tallying 11 catches for 185 yards and a TD in his last two games. He’s still only scored two TDs in his last 11 games. Again, however, the good news is he’s scored a TD in each of his last two games against the Steelers. Torrey Smith has grown allergic to the end zone since his week 3 explosion against St. Louis. TE Ed Dickson has been a quietly productive player at his position, as he’s outscored other “stellar” players such as Jermichael Finley, Vernon Davis and Antonio Gates.

The Steelers field the 2nd-ranked overall defense and the top-ranked pass defense, so the Ravens will be challenged. Pittsburgh’s defense is improving week after week, as its game against New England last week proves. They held the Patrioits’ explosive passing game to a paltry 170 through the air, so this may end up being a defensive struggle. Expect a low-scoring game that’s become an expected outcome when these two teams meet.

Running Game Thoughts: Ray Rice usually bounces back after a bad game, and he did so last week. After his 28-yards-rushing stink bomb of a game against Jacksonville, Rice responded with a solid 3-TD, 7-reception, all-around game against Arizona last week. Only two RBs have more receptions than Rice, who has 17 catches over the last three games. He is second on the team in receptions and will continue to be the catalyst of a middle-of-the-road offense that’s ranked 14th in the league.

The league’s top two defenses square off in this contest. Pittsburgh is the top-10 rushing defense they’ve always been, as they’ve given up only a total of 116 yards on the ground over the last two games. The Steelers do relinquish 4.4 ypc, so if Rice gets his touches, he may be able to carve out a solid performance. He’s had an average of 22 touches per game over his last three; if he reaches that number, expect a good game from the Rutgers product.

Joe Flacco: 210 yards passing / 2 TDs / 1 INT
Anquan Boldin: 65 yards receiving
Torrey Smith: 40 yards receiving
Ed Dickson: 35 yards receiving / 1 TD
Ray Rice: 80 yards rushing / 55 yards receiving / 1 rushing TD / 1 receiving TD

BAL FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: -25.2%
BAL FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: -4.6%
BAL FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: +1.6%
BAL FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: -34.6%

Passing Game Thoughts: Ben Roethlisberger has been one of the hottest fantasy QBs over the last month or so. Two consecutive games of 300-plus yards passing; 11 passing TDs in his last four games; only two INTs in the last four games - solid numbers that have certainly won many a fantasy owner a game or three during that stretch. Mike Wallace continues to be solid as well. How’s this for perspective: last week’s game was Wallace’s worst in terms of receiving yards (70) since a Week 11 contest last year against Buffalo (33). And, his 10 yards-per-reception was also his lowest since a 5.5 ypr in Week 13 of 2009. This dude has been ridiculously productive. I always thought it’d be difficult for a Pittsburgh receiver to be as predictably productive as Wallace has been. Who knew?

Pittsburgh will undoubtedly face its toughest test of the season going up against Baltimore. The Ravens have the 5th-best pass defense in the league and have given up only five passing TDs on the season. A 98-yard stifling of the Cardinals last week, and a 73-yard drubbing of the Jaguars the week before certainly help that ranking. Certainly, it helps going up against the likes of Kevin Kolb and Blaine Gabbert, too. Roethlisberger is worlds beyond those two signal-callers, but he too will find it difficult to navigate through the swarming Ravens defense.

Running Game Thoughts: The Steelers have failed to reach the 100-yard mark on the ground during the last two games. Rashard Mendenhall has especially found little running room. The fourth year pro has only 102 yards combined on the ground over the last two games, including a putrid 32-yard, 2.4 ypc performance against Arizona in week 8. Mendenhall averages only 55 yards per game on the ground in his five career games against the Ravens with three total TDs. He will be lucky to cross the goal line this week. Don’t expect much from Mendenhall; he should have his third consecutive sub-100 yard rushing performance.

Baltimore’s run defense has been one of the stingiest in the league. They are third in the league against the run and have given up only two rushing TDs all season. Their 3.3 ypc against is also third in league, so suffice it to say, the Steelers probably won’t find much success on the ground. Much like last week against New England, the Steelers may very well rely on Roethlisberger to be the offensive catalyst. View Mendenhall as nothing more than a low-end RB2 this week.

Ben Roethlisberger: 240 yards passing / 2 TDs
Mike Wallace: 90 yards receiving / 1 TD
Antonio Brown: 45 yards receiving / 1 TD
Hines Ward: 35 yards receiving
Heath Miller: 40 yards receiving
Rashard Mendenhall: 55 yards rushing

Prediction: Baltimore 21, Steelers 17

Dolphins @ Chiefs - (Eakin)

KC FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: -9.6%
KC FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: +9.9%
KC FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: -29.9%
KC FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: -12.8%

Passing Game Thoughts: The Dolphins passing game has been a weakness with backup Matt Moore replacing Chad Henne who was lost for the season. Moore and the Dolphins are throwing for 200 yards per game which ranks 25th in the league. In their favor the Chiefs pass defense ranks just 25th allowing 250 yards per game. For the Dolphins to have success they will have to start fast. Arrowhead is a difficult place to play with loud crowd noise that makes communication difficult so getting off to a fast start can help. Brandon Marshall is their best receiver but he will have a difficult matchup with cornerback Brandon Flowers who just shut down Vincent Jackson, and is playing at a very high level. Still, Marshall can have success even against top corners by using his size and strength advantage. The Dolphins will need to be more creative in attacking the Chiefs. They need to do better using the skills of Reggie Bush as a pass threat and other options like TE Anthony Fasano.

Running Game Thoughts: The ground will need to lead the way if the Dolphins are to have a shot at getting their first win. They should be at full strength with the return of rookie Daniel Thomas. Thomas is a tough inside runner that is capable of controlling the game. This will be a big task without their rookie center Mike Pouncey. Like the passing game, the Dolphins will want to keep the Chiefs defense off balance with a good mixture of Thomas power runs game and Bush attacking the perimeter. Bush had over a hundred yards last week showing he can effectively run as a lead back. The loss of Pouncey could hurt their ability to get MLB Derrick Johnson blocked. He’s a leader and physical presence of the run defense and will be a major factor in stopping Thomas. The Dolphins are 12th in rushing averaging 116 yards per game. The Chiefs rank just 22nd in stopping the run allowing 122 yards per game. This is the only phase of the game the Dolphins will have an edge, and it will be critical for them to exploit.

Matt Moore: 200 yds passing, 1 TD / 1 Int.
Brandon Marshall: 70 yds receiving / 1 TD
Davone Bess: 60 yds receiving
Anthony Fasano: 45 yds receiving
Reggie Bush: 55 yds rushing / 50 yds receiving
Daniel Thomas: 65 yds rushing / 1 TD

MIA FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: +14.4%
MIA FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: +8.9%
MIA FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: -19.7%
MIA FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: -10.0%

Passing Game Thoughts: Matt Cassel enters this week on a roll having finished his last three games with a QB rating over 100. He also has a new shiny weapon in rookie WR Jonathan Baldwin. Baldwin showed us a glimpse of his immense talent when he sprinted past the Chargers secondary for a 40-yard TD score Monday Night. Baldwin is considered by many scouts as an equal talent to standout rookie WRs A.J. Green and Julio Jones. He was drafted behind them only on questions surrounding his character. He could be in line for another big day as his strength lies in the deep vertical routes which are the exactly the type the Dolphins secondary has had problems defending. They have given up 14 TDs to opposing WRs in spite of a pair of talented young corner backs in Vontae Davis and Sean Smith. Davis and Smith will line up outside on Bowe and Breaston, leaving Baldwin free to exploit the middle of the Miami defense, where they are vulnerable. Miami Safety Yeremiah Bell is great and run support and racks up a ton of tackles but struggles in pass coverage. The other aspect of the passing game the Chiefs can exploit is with Dexter McCluster. McCluster’s speed makes him a complete mismatch for any of the big Dolphin Linebackers that are built to stop the run and rush the passer.

Running Game Thoughts: Jackie Battle is averaging 88 yards rushing per game and 4.7 yards per carry since taking over as the lead back. He was drafted as a combine freak with great speed and size despite a lackluster collegiate career at Houston. Because his experience is limited, he should continue to improve the as the season progresses. The Dolphins aren’t a picnic to run on though. They rank 13th in rushing defense allowing an average of 109 yards. Because Battle still shares some carries with McCluster and Thomas Jones, he is a mid to low end RB2 prospect this week.

Matt Cassel: 235 yds passing, 2 TDs / 2 INT
Dwayne Bowe: 70 yds receiving / 1 TD
Jonathan Baldwin: 50 yds receiving / 1 TD
Steve Breaston: 45 yds receiving
Jackie Battle: 85 yds rushing / 1 TD

Prediction: Chiefs 24, Dolphins 17

Broncos @ Raiders - (Eakin)

OAK FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: -1.8%
OAK FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: +0.5%
OAK FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: +33.9%
OAK FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: +1.7%

Passing Game Thoughts: A week ago most expected the Broncos to let Tim Tebow play out the remainder of the season to get a fair gauge on his chances to be a franchise QB. Just one week later there is talk that this is his last chance to show some improvement. That’s how ugly things went against the Lions defense that spent the day lying on and around Tebow. The Broncos will now go to the black hole to face a similar physical defensive front. The offensive line has to improve its pass protection for Tebow to have a chance. Tebow needs better pocket presence. He does not keep his eyes downfield when things get tight as all the good ones do. Rather, he pulls the ball down, looks at the rush, runs in circles until he’s sacked or runs up field. The Broncos could help alleviate this by moving out of the pocket on more roll outs. Look for them to establish some high percentage short throws with roll-outs, screens, and swings to the backfield early on, to try to overcome his slow starts. And by slow I mean three and a half quarters.

Running Game Thoughts: Willis McGahee is probable to return after a broken hand sidelined him for two weeks. He has been a real bright spot, taking over Moreno’s job as the lead back and going over 100 yards 3 out of 5 games. McGahee will be the key to the Broncos chance of an upset. The Raiders are allowing 116 yards per game but will be missing their defensive leader MLB Rolando McClain. McClain was expected back but has yet to practice as of Thursday. Oakland doesn’t have much depth at linebacker so their defensive line and strong safety Tyvon Branch will need to stay disciplined to help support the run. Discipline hasn’t always been a Raider trademark.

Tim Tebow: 175 yds passing, 1 TDs / 1 Int.
Eric Decker: 85 yds receiving
Demaryius Thomas: 60 yds receiving / 1 TD
Daniel Fells: 30 yds receiving
Willis McGahee: 105 yds rushing / 1 TD

DEN FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: +50.3%
DEN FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: +53.3%
DEN FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: +0.7%
DEN FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: -18.2%

Passing Game Thoughts: Throw out Carson Palmer’s first appearance of three picks. Dude just got off the couch three days prior and had no sense of his receivers or the offense. There’s no way he should have been thrown out there like that. This will be the first real test for the new Palmer era. With a bye week to get adjusted, Palmer will now have the weight of Oakland on his shoulders given the loot the franchise paid. How strange is it that no one really knows who is steering the ship or making these long term franchise decisions besides coach Hue Jackson. Man went from powerless to maybe the most powerful coach in the league overnight. Anyways, I’m not expecting a ton from Palmer. I think he’ll be a serviceable QB and a poor fantasy play. I’m planted firmly in the “he doesn’t have any juice on his fastball anymore” camp until I see otherwise. The Raiders picked up T.J. Houshmandzadeh because the two are buddies and threw together all off-season - feels like when the boss’s son gets the promotion despite 3 years of poor performance and not showing up to work. He is likely to work in the slot, so the Raiders would have to sit Jacoby Ford or Denarius Moore. Really? Either way, one of the leagues young speedy future stars will sit in favor of an older slower possession receiver whose career basically ended two years ago and has been looked at and rejected by half the receiver desperate teams. That can’t sit well in the locker room.

Running Game Thoughts: Contrary to most assumptions, it looks like Darren McFadden and his sprained foot is not healed coming out of the bye week. He is still wearing a boot and hasn’t practiced. The Raiders should be fine with Michael Bush filling in. Bush is perfectly capable of bowling over the very average Denver run defense for triple digit yards and a score. Keep an eye on his backup Taiwan Jones. Jones has flashed speed and skills that draw comparison to the old Chris Johnson. I’m looking forward to seeing him get some more opportunity as a change of pace for Bush. With Palmer finding his way, the Raiders will lean heavily on the run game to protect him from another disastrous day. Bush should be a high end RB2 with RB 1 upside.

Carson Palmer: 200 yds passing, 1 TD / 1 INT
Darrius Heyward-Bey: 70 yds receiving, 1 TD
Denarius Moore: 60 yds receiving
Kevin Boss: 45 yds receiving
Michael Bush: 100 yds rushing / 1 TD

Prediction: Raiders 20, Broncos 17

Rams @ Cardinals - (Eakin)

ARI FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: +11.8%
ARI FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: +29.6%
ARI FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: +5.9%
ARI FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: +29.5%

Passing Game Thoughts: Rams are a good bet to win back-to-back after once threatening a winless season. What an amazing effort against a Saints team that looked unbeatable just a week earlier. Sam Bradford is expected to return and make lots of sweet music with Brandon Lloyd. I think Lloyd is a top 10 WR from this point forward - love the trade for both their values. Lloyd will be in for a great match-up with Patrick Peterson. Peterson isn’t having quite the year people expected, but there is no doubt he is an elite talent and has the physical tools to make life difficult on any receiver. I like Lloyd’s veteran savvy to hold the advantage at day’s end. I agree with those that say Peterson belongs at safety - not that he can’t cover, but he could have more influence on games roaming the middle of the field.

The Rams have dialed it back a bit and employed more short throws to compensate for their line play. They probably play it a bit conservative for Bradford as well until he gets back to full speed. That translates to Lloyd, Steven Jackson, and slot man Greg Salas each getting 6-8 receptions. The Cardinals pass defense has been atrocious, in large part to poor safety play and a lack of pass rush. Starting safety Kerry Rhodes is still out, and they lack safeties that have good range. When they don’t get to the QB, there is too much pressure for them to defend the whole field.

Running Game Thoughts: Steven Jackson went circa 2006 on the Saints last week with 159 yards and two scores on 25 carries. Not sure where that came from; could be that he is really fresh after missing time. If you’re an owner looking for an encore performance, the Cards seem like a decent draw. They are 15th in run defense but could be without maybe their best point of attack LB in Joey Porter. Ride the hot hand and look for Jackson to pound another big game out while trying to get Bradford back up to speed.

Sam Bradford: 275 yds passing, 2 TDs / 1 Int.
Brandon Lloyd: 85 yds receiving / 1 TD
Brandon Gibson: 60 yds receiving
Lance Kendricks: 55 yds receiving / 1 TD
Steven Jackson: 95 yard rushing / 30 receiving / 1 TD

STL FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: -4.4%
STL FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: +20.5.%
STL FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: -36.8%
STL FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: +32.3%

Passing Game Thoughts: The Cardinals may have to start John Skelton in place of Kevin Kolb due to the dreaded turf toe. Skelton is a big guy with raw talent but has a 47% passing percentage with 2 TDs and 2 INTs in spot duty last year. “Nuke” could be a fitting nickname. You know, as in, Juuuuuust a bit outside”… Anyways. Not a ringing endorsement for the prospects of Larry Fitzgerald and Early Doucet, which comes at the worst possible time as fantasy owners have been staring down this juicy part of their schedule all year. The Rams were able to keep Drew Brees off balance with an inspired pass rush, notably from Chris Long. Long and company will have Skelton skittish.

Running Game Thoughts: Kudos to Beanie Wells. Serious. This guy takes shots every other day on his fragility, he is declared unlikely to play by the entire NFL world and then he suits up and gives the Ravens rush defense all they can handle - great effort. After the game he claimed his knee was going to be an issue the rest of the season. That’s not ideal in fantasy land, because every week he will be a game time decision and the Cards play a lot of afternoon games. So replacements are slim, and they don’t really have a safe backup in Alfonso Smith.

John Skelton: 190 yds passing, 1 TDs, 2 INT
Larry Fitzgerald: 70 yds receiving
Early Doucet: 40 yds receiving
Beanie Wells: 95 yds rushing / 1 TD

Prediction: Rams 23, Cardinals 20

Packers @ Chargers - (Eakin)

SD FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: -9.0%
SD FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: -20.6%
SD FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: -43.4%
SD FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: 0.0%

Passing Game Thoughts: What once looked like a match-up of the best in the west versus the best in the East, now looks like a possible no contest with two straight Chargers losses and some sudden health concerns. Aaron Rodgers is playing the quarterback position arguably as well as it has ever been played. Other than a letdown in focus, I’m not sure how the Chargers defend Green Bay. They need to cover and get to Rodgers, yet their best CB Quentin Jammer left injured last game and is questionable and their only accomplished pass rusher, Shaun Phillips, didn’t even suit up. Antoine Cason would be left to cover Greg Jennings, one of the 4 or 5 best receivers in the game, and the trickle down of backups then left to deal with the Jordy Nelson’s and James Jones’ of the world. An improbable task without a good pass rush even for the Chargers 4th ranked pass defense.

Running Game Thoughts: Eventually the Packers will make a real effort to get things going on the ground. They have two solid options in Ryan Grant and James Starks and will soon want to establish a power run game as the winter weather approaches. Starks is the better play of the two thus far. He averages 4.5 yards per carry to Grant’s 4.0 - three runs over 20 yards to Grants zero, and one score to none. While Starks is a slightly better option, neither is appealing in the warm confines of San Diego while Rodgers is enjoying a historic run.

Aaron Rodgers: 325 yds passing, 3 TDs
Greg Jennings: 85 yds receiving
Jordy Nelson: 60 yds receiving / 1 TD
James Jones: 45 yards receiving
Jermichael Finley: 75 yds receiving / 1 TD
James Starks: 55 yds rushing / 25 receiving yards

GB FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: +0.5%
GB FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: +12.0%
GB FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: +9.5%
GB FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: -8.4%

Passing Game Thoughts: Lots of talk surrounding Philip Rivers struggles this season. He’s thrown just 7 TDs to 11 INTs at the halfway point - a nightmare campaign by his lofty standards. As far as speculation that he is hiding an injury, I think it is possible, as his unusual throwing motion seems to be at a lower angle than I remember and with a bit less velocity. There are some other valid criticisms as well. The loss of Darren Sproles seems reasonable at first glance. From the success of Sproles this year, it’s clear his talent was a bit overlooked by experts, laymen, and the organization itself. We also can’t underestimate the loss of TE Antonio Gates. Gates is one of the most lethal red zone targets in league history. He made a name for himself by shielding defenders and catching TDs like a rebound. The Chargers passing yardage is not for off his average, it’s their red zone efficiency that has tanked. The combined loss of Gates for most of the year and Sproles as red zone targets gives them a lot less options in close. You would think with two outside targets in Malcom Floyd and Vincent Jackson, they would be able to use the height mismatch to compensate.

The Chargers don’t have a legitimate slot threat, or at least haven’t established that threat to keep defenses honest with someone in the middle. They use power runs by Mike Tolbert and outside throws but when Gates is out, they don’t work the middle effectively. For this specific game, I think Rivers could again have a big yardage day, as their running back core is a bit banged up, but until they solve their red zone offense, they will settle for field goals and lose to teams like the Packers that score TDs instead.

Running Game Thoughts: Ryan Mathews, 7th in yards from scrimmage, will be out with a groin pull. Tolbert, out last week, is hopeful to play, but if he can’t go they will be woefully shallow at RB. Jacob Hester would likely play the lead role since 3rd string RB Curtis Brinkley is also doubtful with a concussion. All signs point to Tolbert playing though, and with the backfield to himself, should post big numbers despite a less than ideal matchup with the Packers 10th ranked run defense. Tolbert is a decent receiving threat and excellent short yardage option that will give him some scoring chances.

Philip Rivers: 305 yds passing, 2 TDs
Vincent Jackson: 85 yds receiving / 1 TD
Malcom Floyd: 60 yds receiving /
Antonio Gates: 45 yards receiving / 1 TD
Mike Tolbert: 90 yards rushing 1 TD / 25 receiving yards

Prediction: Packers 31, Chargers 24