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Inside the Matchup
Week 10

By: Bill Andereson | Sal Marcoccio | Nick Caron | Kyle Smith

IND @ JAX | ATL @ NO | SD @ TB | DEN @ CAR



 Predictions - YTD
Rk Staffer W L %
1 Anderson 24 9 72.7
2 Caron 23 11 67.6
3 Smith 22 13 62.9
4 Marcoccio 14 14 50.0

Colts @ Jaguars - (Smith)

Passing Game Thoughts: Andrew Luck has taken over as favorite for Rookie of the Year with his recent play, including the 433-yard, two-touchdown effort he gave last week against the Dolphins. He’s now tied for fourth in passing yards on the year and is seventh in FPPG among QBs. Luck’s also managed to rejuvenate Reggie Wayne, helping make him a weapon yet again for fantasy owners. Wayne is fourth in FPPG at wide receiver, second in the league in receptions and the leader in receiving yards. He has yet to play a game in which he’s amassed fewer than 70 yards, and it seems unlikely that streak will end this week against the Jaguars.

Jacksonville remains dead last in the NFL in sacks, and their failure to get pressure on the quarterback has to be a big part of why they are 25th in the league against the pass, 27th (tied) in interceptions, and have allowed the sixth-most passing touchdowns. Five different QBs have thrown for 270 or more yards when facing the Jaguars and eight WR have gained 75 or more receiving yards. But due to the success of the receivers, teams have had little use for their tight ends against Jacksonville, and just one team has allowed fewer FPPG to players at that positon.

Running Game Thoughts: Running back Donald Brown has been ailing recently, with no carries in three of his last four games. Vick Ballard has done a decent job in his place, but Brown had seemed to be picking it up, having rushed for 80+ yards in his last two contests. Brown could see some action against Jacksonville, but it’s unlikely he’ll carry a full load. If he did, he’d certainly be a worthy fantasy play as a flex, because Jacksonville is a prime match-up.

The Jags are 27th in the NFL in run defense, 31st in rushing scores allowed and 19th in YPC allowed. Fourth-most FPPG allowed to running backs. Only three teams have allowed more FPPG to running backs than Jacksonville, with six opposing backs gaining at least 70 yards against them, and three different runners gaining 70+ yards and scoring multiple times.

Andrew Luck: 290 pass yds, 2 TD
Reggie Wayne: 110 rec yds
Donnie Avery: 70 rec yds
Dwayne Allen: 55 rec yds
T.Y. Hilton: 25 rec yds
Vick Ballard: 55 rush yds, 1 TD /20 rec yds
Donald Brown: 35 rush yds

Passing Game Thoughts: The Jaguars have the league’s worst passing offense, and fantasy owners know it because it would be difficult to find any Jacksonville quarterback or wideout on fantasy rosters. Blaine Gabbert 34th in FPts/G among QBs, and here is all fantasy owners need to know about him – he threw for over 200 yards in each of his last two contests, marking the first time in his 23 starts that he had consecutive games of at least 200 passing yards. He has little to throw to anyway, with the top fantasy option among his receivers being Cecil Shorts, who is tied for 35th in FPts/G among wideouts, and the only receiver in the top 70. Gabbert and Co. will square off against the Colts this week, who have had some mixed results with their pass defense.

Indianapolis is 11th (tied) against the pass, but 21st (tied) in passing scores allowed, 21st in opponents’ completion percentage, and last in interceptions with two. Just seven teams have given up more FPPG to wide receivers than the Colts, with six having gained at least 80 yards against them. But like their opponent this week, Indy has stifled tight ends, with no team in the NFL having allowed FPPG to them.

Running Game Thoughts: Maurice Jones-Drew is out for this game, which means that Rashad Jennings will continue to fill in. It also means that there is unlikely to be a single player for the Jaguars in a starting role for fantasy owners, because in Jennings’ three starts, he has yet to run for 60 yards, though he did manage a touchdown against the Raiders in Week 7 (a game in which he also gained just 44 yards on 21 carries). Had MJD been playing, we would have been predicting big things, because Indy is an ideal match-up for him.

The Colts rank 25th in the league in rush defense, 24th (tied) in rushing scores given up, and 29th in YPC allowed. They’ve allowed the sixth-most FPts/G to opposing running backs, and each of the three backs who have carried the ball at least 20 times against Indy has gained 99 or more yards.

Blaine Gabbert: 195 pass yds, 2 TD, 1 INT
Laurent Robinson: 55 rec yds, 1 TD
Justin Blackmon: 40 rec yds
Cecil Shorts: 40 rec yds, 1 TD
Micheal Spurlock: 20 rec yds
Marcedes Lewis: 15 rec yds
Rashad Jennings: 55 rush yds / 15 rec yds

Prediction: Colts 27, Jaguars 17 ^ Top

Falcons @ Saints - (Smith)

Passing Game Thoughts: The Falcons’ eighth-ranked passing offense is anchored by Matt Ryan, who is tied for third in FPTS/G at QB, ninth in the league in passing yards, fourth in touchdown throws and has been completing passes at a blistering rate of 68.9 percent, which is third in the NFL. Of course, he does have the advantage of throwing to a trio of pass-catching stalwarts Roddy White (ninth in FPTS/G at WR), Julio Jones (10th in FPTS/G at WR), and Tony Gonzalez (fifth in FPTS/G at TE). Gonzalez’s production has dropped over the past few games, but fantasy owners should be confident that he’ll rebound in a big way eventually, and with the Saints’ shoddy defense, this could be the week.

New Orleans has been wretched defensively this year, ranking 29th against the pass, 29th (tied) in touchdowns throws given up, 27th (tied) in interceptions, and 30th in passer rating allowed. No NFL team has allowed more FPTS/G allowed to quarterbacks and wideouts, and the Saints have not held a single quarterback to fewer than 248 passing yards, while allowing eight different wide receivers to amass 90 or more receiving yards.

Running Game Thoughts: Atlanta’s success through the air has meant a running game with little to show. They have the league’s 25th-ranked rushing offense, led by Michael Turner, who is tied for 19th in FPTS/G at his position. The 30-year-old Turner is on pace to barely eclipse 1,000 yards on the ground, and has four touchdowns this year. Yet he also has run for fewer than 60 yards in half of his eight games this season, making him a flex play most weeks. But he’s a RB2 – at least – this week, because New Orleans gives up rushing yards and fantasy points like charity.

The Saints are dead last in the NFL in rush defense, 24th (tied) in rushing touchdowns allowed, and second-to-last in YPC allowed. Only one team has given up more FPTS/G to running backs, and eight running backs have scampered for 80 or more yards against them.

Matt Ryan: 325 pass yds, 2 TD
Julio Jones: 110 rec yds, 1 TD
Roddy White: 95 rec yds, 1 TD
Tony Gonzalez: 60 rec yds
Harry Douglas: 20 rec yds
Michael Turner: 90 rush yds, 2 TD
Jacquizz Rodgers: 25 rush yds / 30 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: A lot of things have gone wrong for New Orleans this year, but their passing game isn’t among the issues. They own the NFL’s number two passing offense, and Drew Brees leads all quarterbacks in FPTS/G and passing yards, and is second in touchdown throws with 22. Marques Colston is just 15th in receiving yards this year, but he is eighth in FPTS/G at wideout due to his six touchdown receptions, which is tied for seventh in the league. Jimmy Graham suffered an injury which set him back in overall fantasy points, but among tight ends, he’s still second in FPTS/G, and has a favorable match-up this week against the Falcons.

Atlanta is 14th in the NFL against the pass, fifth in touchdowns allowed, and fourth (tied) in interceptions. They’ve been strong against quarterbacks and wideouts, ranking 21st in FPTS/G given up to QBs and 25th in FPTS/G allowed to receivers. But the Falcons have struggled a bit in recent weeks against some solid competition, allowing 300-yard passers twice in their last three games, and over their last five games have given up 75 or more yards to receivers and 50 or more yards to tight ends four different times.

Running Game Thoughts: When the Saints’ offense is clicking, they not only throw the ball well, but run it effectively also. That’s not been the case this season, and New Orleans has done next to nothing on the ground, possessing the league’s 30th-ranked rushing offense. Their most effective fantasy runner is Darren Sproles, who is 25th in FPTS/G at his position, but he does little actual running, racking up most of his points in the passing game. So it’s a great concern that he is nursing a hand injury which kept him out last week and may do so again this week. If that’s the case, Chris Ivory will get called upon again, just as he did last week when he led the team in carries and rushing yards while also finding the end zone. He and his fellow mates in the backfield, Pierre Thomas and Mark Ingram, should be in for a solid day against Atlanta’s mediocre rush defense.

Only two teams are allowing a higher average YPC than the Falcons, who are 24th against the run and 22nd (tied) in rushing scores given up. That hasn’t led to huge amount of fantasy points for opposing backs though, as Atlanta is 13th in FPTS/G allowed to running backs and haven’t allowed more than 70 yards to a runner in their last three games or five of their last six.

Drew Brees: 310 pass yds, 3 TD, 1 INT
Jimmy Graham: 90 rec yds, 1 TD
Marques Colston: 85 rec yds, 1 TD
Lance Moore: 65 rec yds
Devery Henderson: 35 rec yds
Pierre Thomas: 55 rush yds / 25 rec yds, 1 TD
Chris Ivory: 35 rush yds
Mark Ingram: 30 rush yds, 1 TD

Prediction: Falcons 34, Saints 28 ^ Top

Chargers @ Buccaneers - (Smith)

Passing Game Thoughts: The annual calls for Norv Turner’s head are coming as the Chargers are yet again underperforming. Philip Rivers has done little to help his coach, having thrown 10 interceptions (fifth-most in league) and for 1,866 yards (20th). He’s let his fantasy owners down as well, and is tied for 22nd in FPTS/G at his position. His weapons aren’t awe-inspiring, but they aren’t horrific either. Robert Meachem should return this week after a one-game absence, and their leading wideout is Malcolm Floyd, who is tied for 35th in FPTS/G at receiver. The player that might be most frustrating to fantasy owners is Antonio Gates, who has been relatively healthy this season, but isn’t getting nearly as many targets as most thought he would, and is tied for 11th in FPTS/G at tight end.

The Chargers face the Bucs this week, and they are a tale of two defenses. One of those tales is their pass defense, which is last in the NFL in yards per game allowed, 16th (tied) in passing scores given up, 24th in passer rating allowed, and 26th (tied) in sacks. Tampa Bay does have the third-most interceptions in the league, but that hasn’t stopped the skill position players from accumulating big fantasy numbers. Just four teams have allowed more FPTS/G to quarterbacks, only two teams have given up more FPTS/G to wide receivers, while 11 teams have allowed more FPTS/G to tight ends. The Bucs have allowed 15 wide receivers to gain at least 60 yards this year, so they’ve given up bundles of yards through the air all season, but in two of their past three games they’ve allowed 375 or more yards and four touchdowns to quarterbacks.

Running Game Thoughts: San Diego hasn’t just had trouble throwing the ball, they’ve been somewhat stymied in their rushing attack as well. They have the league’s number 19 (tied) rushing offense, led by Ryan Mathews, whose 421 rushing yards this year are 23rd in the league, and with only one touchdown on the ground, he’s currently 22nd in FPTS/G at his position. Things probably won’t get a whole lot better for Mathews or his fantasy owners this week due to the Bucs’ solid rush defense.

We mentioned that Tampa was a tale of two defenses, and their rush defense is the better half. While certainly part of their success is due to the fact that their opposition has had so much success throwing the ball, they not only lead the league in rush defense, but YPC allowed as well, which means they’re doing something right. Just two running backs have eclipsed 75 rushing yards against the Bucs, and, only three have gained more than 50 yards. They have allowed a decent number of scores, ranking 14th (tied) in rushing scores allowed, which is one of the reasons they are 19th in FPTS/G given up to running backs instead of in the 20’s.

Philip Rivers: 305 pass yds, 3 TD, 2 INT
Michael Floyd: 85 rec yds, 1 TD
Robert Meachem: 65 rec yds
Antonio Gates: 50 rec yds, 1 TD
Danario Alexander: 35 rec yds, 1 TD
Eddie Royal: 20 rec yds
Ryan Mathews: 55 rush yds / 15 rec yds
Ronnie Brown: 15 rush yds / 25 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: Tampa Bay is 13th in passing offense this season, and Josh Freeman is 14th in FPTS/G at quarterback, having tossed 16 touchdowns and only five picks. There are a combination of reasons why Freeman has performed so much better this year than last, but one of them is assuredly the acquisition of Vincent Jackson, who is eighth in receiving yards, tied for seventh in touchdown catches and third in FPTS/G at wide receiver. Fantasy owners have also got to be thrilled with Mike Williams, who had a fabulous rookie year only to slump last season. But he’s returned to fantasy prominence with five touchdown catches – just one fewer than Jackson – and is 22nd in FPTS/G at wideout. Each is in line for success this week and should be considered fantasy starters against the average pass defense of San Diego.

The Chargers are 18th in the league in pass defense, 21st (tied) in touchdowns allowed, and 26th (tied) in sacks. Though they’ve held each of the last two quarterbacks they’ve faced to less than 185 yards and zero scores, those quarterbacks were Matt Cassel and Brandon Weeden, not Peyton Manning and Drew Brees. For the season, San Diego is 12th in FPTS/G allowed to wide receivers, and five wideouts have gained 75+ yards against San Diego in the team’s last five games.

Running Game Thoughts: The Bucs have the NFL’s number nine rushing offense, and a bona fide fantasy star in rookie Doug Martin. He is the position leader in FPTS/G, holding a narrow lead over Arian Foster. Martin’s 251-yard, four-touchdown performance last week helped buoy him to third in the league in rushing yards and second in rushing scores. He’s run for at least 75 yards in each of his last four games and can catch the ball out of the backfield as well, with 245 receiving yards this year. Martin’s receiving ability should be in prime display this week against the Chargers.

San Diego is fourth in the league against the run, eighth (tied) in rushing touchdowns allowed, and fifth in YPC given up. They should be among the stingiest defenses in the game when it comes to fantasy points allowed to running backs, but they are just 16th in FPTS/G allowed. The reason is because just four teams have given up more receptions and receiving yards to running backs than the Chargers, who have also allowed runners to score twice via reception.

Josh Freeman: 270 pass yds, 2 TD, 1 INT
Vincent Jackson: 95 rec yds, 1 TD
Mike Williams: 70 rec yds, 1 TD
Tiquan Underwood: 35 rec yds
Dallas Clark: 20 rec yds
Doug Martin: 65 rush yds, 1 TD / 40 rec yds
LeGarrette Blount: 15 rush yds

Prediction: Buccaneers 24, Chargers 20 ^ Top

Broncos @ Panthers - (Smith)

Passing Game Thoughts: Peyton Manning has single-handedly transformed the Broncos’ offense, and they now have the league’s number four passing offense. Manning is third (tied) in FPTS/G at quarterback, third in touchdown throws and fourth (tied) in passing yards. He’s also made his receivers into fantasy stars. Anyone can see the physical gifts that Demaryius Thomas possesses, and he’s blossomed with Manning, catching four touchdowns and gaining the fourth-most receiving yards in the game, which has led him to fifth place (tied) in FPTS/G at wideout. Just one spot behind him is Eric Decker, who doesn’t have the yards Thomas does, but has three more touchdown catches. That trio should each be starting for their fantasy owners this week against Carolina.

The Panthers are currently 13th in the NFL in pass defense, but sixth (tied) in touchdowns through the air given up, and 30th in opponents’ completion percentage. They are also 23rd in FPTS/G allowed to quarterbacks, and only two squads have given up more FPTS/G to wide receivers, so points are there for the taking.

Running Game Thoughts: Denver is clearly a passing team under Manning, but that hasn’t hindered the value of Willis McGahee too badly. He’s 12th in rushing yards with 620, has four touchdowns and is 10th in FPTS/G at his position. That’s better than many people thought he would be doing right now due to his age and the transformation that the team was going to go through. But McGahee has been solid, and he has a chance for a decent game this week for his fantasy owners.

Carolina is 20th in rush defense, 14th (tied) in rushing scores allowed, and 15th in YPC given up. Being right in the middle statistically makes them somewhat difficult to gauge, because although seven different running backs have gained at least 70 yards against them, they are 11th in FPTS/G allowed to players at the position. Bottom line, we think McGahee is a decent flex option this week, but no better.

Peyton Manning: 280 pass yds, 3 TD
Demaryius Thomas: 105 rec yds, 2 TD
Eric Decker: 90 rec yds, 1 TD
Joel Dreessen: 35 rec yds
Brandon Stokley: 25 rec yds
Jacob Tamme: 15 rec yds
Willis McGahee: 55 rush yds, 1 TD

Passing Game Thoughts: Cam Newton the second-year player hasn’t been much like the rookie version, much to the chagrin of fantasy owners. Twenty-nine different quarterbacks have more touchdowns than Newton’s six, and he’s also tossed eight interceptions. He leads the Panthers with 347 rushing yards, which is a pace similar to his total from last season, but his four rushing scores are well behind his pace from last season. Maybe we were all expecting too much, but even those with lowered expectations of him had to think he’d be doing better than 11th in FPTS/G at his position. His top weapon, Steve Smith, has been somewhat hurt by Newton’s shoddy play as well. He’s 13th in the league in receiving yards, but didn’t score his first touchdown until last week and is currently 30th in FPTS/G at wide receiver.

The Panthers take on a Broncos team that has been solid in pass defense, this season, ranking 10th in the league in that stat, not to mention 21st (tied) in passing scores allowed and sixth (tied) in sacks. And while Denver is 23rd in FPTS/G allowed to wideouts, only two teams have given up more FPTS/G to tight ends. They haven’t allowed a single 300-yard passer this season, but tight ends have done plenty of damage lately, scoring three times and gaining at least 60 yards in their last three games.

Running Game Thoughts: Carolina has the league’s 12th-ranked rushing offense, but their running backs are of little value to fantasy owners. Jonathan Stewart is just 43rd in FPTS/G at his position, and DeAngelo Williams is 51st, and neither is a quality option most weeks because though Stewart has gotten more carries recently, it usually isn’t enough to make a huge difference. We wouldn’t be thrilled to have either player on our rosters, and this week could be pretty difficult for both.

Denver is 12th in the NFL against the run, 10th (tied) for 10th in rushing touchdowns allowed, and sixth in YPC allowed. They’ve been better than usual the past three games, allowing just a single rushing touchdown to a back and holding each to fewer than 75 yards on the ground.

Cam Newton: 205 pass yds, 2 TD, 2 INT / 30 rush yds
Steve Smith: 85 rec yds, 1 TD
Greg Olsen: 60 rec yds, 1 TD
Brandon LaFell: 25 rec yds
Jonathan Stewart: 40 rush yds, 1 TD / 15 rec yds
DeAngelo Williams: 25 rush yds / 10 rec yds

Prediction: Broncos 34, Panthers 24 ^ Top

Cowboys @ Eagles - (Marcoccio)

Passing Game Thoughts: Tony Romo has lit up the Giants secondary twice this season, having thrown for 744 yards and four touchdowns (albeit with five interceptions) against them, but he’s been mediocre at best against all other teams. In his other six starts, he’s thrown for six touchdowns and eight interceptions and has averaged 275 yards per game. Romo has not been consistent in 2012 and as a result, neither has the Cowboys passing attack. Limiting his mistakes (13 interceptions) would go a long way towards jump-starting the offense jump-started. When Miles Austin, Dez Bryant and Jason Witten are healthy, Romo has one of the best group of pass catchers in the league. However, only Austin has performed at a top level consistently all season. Witten got off to a slow start after recovering from a preseason spleen laceration, and Bryant continues to mysteriously disappear from games some weeks, like last week when he only managed one reception for 15 yards. Witten has stepped his game up in recent weeks, catching 25 balls in the last two games. Kevin Ogletree shocked the fantasy world in Week 1 but fell back into obscurity until last week, where he totaled 96 yards and a touchdown against Atlanta.

The Eagles secondary has performed reasonably well in 2012, but the pass defense has slipped statistically since defensive coordinator Juan Castillo was made a scapegoat and fired. The Eagles are now allowing 229.4 ypg and 12 passing touchdowns through eight games. The team is coming off a shellacking by the Saints' high-powered offense and could be a good matchup for a Dallas team looking to get back on track.

Running Game Thoughts: Veteran Felix Jones played well replacing starter DeMarco Murray in Week 6 but has struggled in the starting role since then. Rookie Lance Dunbar moved past Phillip Tanner last week for the backup spot to Jones and saw eight carries. If Murray can return to action, his fresh legs may be able to get things done, but the Cowboys' interior offensive line has struggled, making either Jones or Dunbar shaky starts against a tough Philly run defense

The Eagles have allowed 114.1 rushing yards per game and only three rushing touchdowns through nine weeks. Look for the Cowboys to abandon the run quickly, as head coach and offensive coordinator Jason Garret is wont to do, especially if the Eagles can get off to a fast start on offense.

Tony Romo: 265 pass yds 2 TDs, 2 INTs / 20 rush yds
Miles Austin: 65 rec yds, 1 TD
Dez Bryant: 40 rec yds
Kevin Ogletree: 15 rec yds
Jason Witten: 85 rec yds, 1 TD
Lance Dunbar: 25 rush yds / 5 rec yds
Felix Jones: 30 rush yds / 25 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: Like his counterpart in this game, Michael Vick has had a major issue with turnovers this season. He has nine interceptions and five lost fumbles through eight games. Against the Saints on Monday night, with all the injuries across the O-line, Vick never had a chance. He was on the run for most of the evening and was sacked seven times. It’s tough to say whether Vick has lost a step when trying to avoid the rush, but it's safe to say that at age 32 it is becoming inevitable. He did manage to run for 53 yards and throw a 77-yard touchdown to DeSean Jackson, but it was just another in a long line of disappointing games for his owners.

The Cowboys, in looking to improve what was a poor pass defense, drafted the talented Morris Claiborne with their first round pick and signed free agent Brandon Carr, and the results have been outstanding. Dallas is the fifth-ranked pass defense, having given up only 205.5 yard per game and seven touchdown passes on the season. The defense hasn’t been able to create turnovers, however, with only three interceptions on the season—but a trip to Philly to meet Michael Vick could change that in a hurry.

Running Game Thoughts: LeSean McCoy tore apart a poor New Orleans run defense on Monday night, gaining 119 yards on his 19 carries. McCoy is dangerous in the open field, and the coaching staff could help Vick by designing more screen plays and dump-offs to McCoy to keep the opposing pass rush in check. McCoy has totaled 771 yards and five touchdowns this season but is arguably still underutilized by the team.
The Cowboys have played the run well, having allowed 107 yards per game and just seven rushing touchdowns. The loss of middle linebacker Sean Lee and his quickness from sideline to sideline could be a factor against the speedy McCoy on outside runs, if the Eagle’s feature a heavy amount of running plays.

Michael Vick: 225 pass yds, 1 TD, 2 INTs / 45 rush yds
DeSean Jackson: 55 rec yds
Jason Avant: 35 rec yds
Jeremy Maclin: 60 rec yds
Brent Celek: 30 rec yds, 1 TD
LeSean McCoy: 125 rush yds, 1 TD / 20 rec yds, 1 TD
Bryce Brown: 10 rush yds

Prediction: Cowboys 20, Eagles 17 ^ Top

Bills @ Patriots - (Marcoccio)

Passing Game Thoughts: Bills’ general manager Buddy Nix has finally come to the conclusion that just because he paid Ryan Fitzpatrick like a franchise quarterback, it doesn’t make him one. Nix stated this week that the Bills need to start looking at acquiring a franchise quarterback after their passing attack once again looked anemic on Sunday. Fitzpatrick threw for 239 without a touchdown, and his weak arm strength and poor decision-making is wasting a wide receiver corps that is not devoid of talent. Stevie Johnson has the strength and speed to get open against most NFL quarterbacks but has not taken that next step after being on the verge of stardom in 2011. Fitzpatrick’s inability to go deep limits Johnson’s effectiveness. Rookie T.J. Graham is a bona fide deep threat that fails to see many opportunities in this offense, as slot receiver Donald Jones racks up targets on underneath routes.

The Patriots have once again struggled with their pass defense in 2012 after finishing 2011 as one of the worst teams in the league defending the pass. They have allowed 281.1 yards per game and have given up a staggering 17 passing touchdowns through eight games in 2012.

Running Game Thoughts: The Bills' game plan now consists of a running back rotation that gives Fred Jackson two series to carry the load and then C.J. Spiller two series to do the same—but gave them just 12 carries combined last week. The Bills have little choice but to split carries since both backs are effective and deserve some share of the workload, but they need to find a way to get their best offensive weapon, Spiller, more than 11 touches during a game. Spiller has shown rare explosion and big-play ability, so limiting his touches is not necessarily a bad thing if it helps keep him healthy. Still, he needs to be a big part of the offense. Jackson is more of a grinder at this stage of his career, so his owners cannot be pleased during the weeks where the carries to be split are not plentiful. The Bills O-line, which was once a disaster, has developed into a very solid unit, and Chan Gailey needs to know that the running game is his only real chance of winning games with such a porous defense and a mistake-prone quarterback.

Unlike the pass defense, the Patriots run defense has been very effective. The team has allowed only 88.6 yards per game on the ground and just three rushing touchdowns on the season. It’s not just that opposing teams abandon the run against them to take advantage of the poor pass defense; the 3.5 yards per carry the Patriots allow proves their run defense is not just a mirage. Nose tackle Vince Wilfork continues to disrupt the interior trenches, making it difficult to find an opening and allowing linebackers Jerrod Mayo and Brandon Spikes to accumulate high tackle numbers. This should be a strength-on-strength matchup this week.

Ryan Fitzpatrick: 275 pass yds 2 TDs, 2 INTs / 25 rush yds
Steve Johnson: 55 rec yds, 1 TD
Donald Jones: 60 rec yds, 1 TD
T.J. Graham: 35 rec yds
Scott Chandler: 25 rec yds
Fred Jackson: 45 rush yds, 1 TD / 15 rec yds
C.J. Spiller: 75 rush yds / 35 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: Tom Brady’s past success has spoiled his fantasy owners into thinking that a season where he’s on pace for over 4,800 passing yards, 32 touchdowns and only six interceptions is a letdown. He’s still one of the better fantasy options on a weekly basis, as he’s averaging 301 passing yards and two touchdowns per game. Aaron Hernandez sat out the game in London before the bye and has been limited at practice this week, as his ankle injury lingers. Wes Welker has thrived while Hernandez has been out of the lineup, and he should continue to see a good share of targets despite its looking like the team was trying to phase him out of the offense during the early part of the season. With Rob Gronkowski and Brandon Llyod also in the mix, the Bills beleaguered secondary will have difficulties slowing down Brady, who should increase his “on pace” numbers after the game.

The Bills have allowed 248.4 passing yards per game while giving up 16 passing touchdowns. Offseason addition Mario Williams is finally starting to come around and provide a much needed pass rush, but fellow addition Mark Anderson is still struggling to get healthy and provide a bookend pass rusher to Williams.

Running Game Thoughts: Former LSU running back Steven Ridley has given the Patriot offense something it hasn’t had in quite some time—a feature back. Danny Woodhead and Shane Vereen do see some snaps in the backfield, but it’s Ridley, with nearly 19 carries per game, that has carried the rushing load for an offense that has been very balanced this season. Ridley has 716 yards and five touchdowns on the ground in eight games, so far putting him on pace for a strong RB1 fantasy season. Expect the Patriots to exploit the Bills’ major weakness in stopping the run by featuring a heavy amount of rushing attempts.

The Bills as usual have been absolutely terrible against the run, having allowed 169.5 yards per game and 14 touchdowns on the ground. Bill Belichick, who can always smell blood in the water, will look to keep his offense on the roll it was on before the bye when they trounced the Rams in London.

Tom Brady: 305 pass yds 2 TDs
Brandon Lloyd: 65 rec yds, 1 TD
Wes Welker: 80 rec yds
Rob Gronkowski: 60 rec yds, 1 TD
Stevan Ridley: 115 rush yds, 2 TDs / 10 rec yds
Danny Woodhead: 15 rush yds / 15 rec yds
Shane Vereen: 35 rush yards, 1 TD

Prediction: Patriots 44, Bills 27 ^ Top

Titans @ Dolphins - (Marcoccio)

Passing Game Thoughts: Jake Locker returns this week for the Titans. He will be wearing a harness over his injured non-throwing shoulder but is expected to play without any limitations. Locker’s arm strength and mobility are a huge upgrade over veteran Matt Hasselbeck, but the young quarterback lacks the discipline and experience Hasselbeck offers. Locker will be looking to jump start an offense that has some nice weapons in the passing game, starting with the talented head-case and former first-round pick out of Rutgers, Kenny Britt. Britt finally looks healthy after preseason knee surgery and has the type of immense talent that can take over a game. Kendall Wright is having a nice rookie season, displaying elite quickness and sure hands, if not great downfield speed. Veteran Nate Washington rounds out what should be a dangerous receiving corps. When you consider that the talented but underused tight end Jared Cook is also in the mix, this team could have a very dangerous passing unit, provided it gets more consistent quarterback play down the road.

The Dolphins present a nice matchup for a quarterback trying to get back into his rhythm after missing a few games. The team has allowed 298.3 yards per game through the air and 10 touchdowns through eight games this season. If Locker can deliver the ball accurately, the Phins secondary will have a difficult time matching up against the eclectic group of weapons featured in the Titans passing attack.

Running Game Thoughts: Surprisingly, Chris Johnson’s best performances have come in his three most difficult matchups—Houston, Pittsburgh and, last week, Chicago. Against the Bears, however, he really didn’t get any traction going running the ball until the Titans were far behind on the scoreboard—but of course his fantasy owners don’t necessarily care about that. In his other five games, Johnson has looked mostly like trash, dancing in the backfield and failing to hit any holes that did exist. Johnson’s inconsistency makes life difficult for his fantasy owners each week, as his biggest weeks have come when many owners likely feared the matchup and benched him, due to his otherwise disappointing season.

The third-ranked Miami run defense offers a tough matchup for opposing running backs. Of course, given the preceding information, that may actually be a good thing for Chris Johnson. Miami has allowed only 83.9 yards per game on the ground and only three rushing touchdowns on season. They have held opposing runners to 3.6 yards per carry, despite facing some of the league’s most explosive backs so far, including Arian Foster and Darren McFadden.

Jake Locker: 285 pass yds 2 TDs, 1 INT / 20 rush yds
Kenny Britt: 85 rec yds, 1 TD
Nate Washington: 50 rec yds, 1 TD
Kendall Wright: 65 rec yds
Jared Cook: 15 rec yds
Chris Johnson: 55 rush yds / 30 rec yds
Jamie Harper: 5 rush yds, 1 TD / 5 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: Rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill has been inconsistent, as expected, but has shown far more through his first eight starts than anyone could have expected from a player that started his college career as a wide receiver. Last week he battled fellow rookie Andrew Luck, who threw for 433 yards in the win and pushed Tannehill’s Week 4 total of 431 passing yards down to third on the rookie single-game passing yards list. Tannehill had a nice game as well, however, throwing for 290 yards and a touchdown. Brian Hartline has become the de facto No. 1 receiver for the Dolphins, but the team will surely look to do better for Tannehill this offseason. Hartline is a good route runner but doesn’t possess blazing speed or an imposing physical presence. In fact, the Dolphins are loaded with slow, sure-handed options like Davone Bess and Anthony Fasano and could use an infusion of some speed. Recently signed wide receiver Jabar Gaffney isn’t the answer in that regard, and the team will likely need to wait until the offseason to improve their receiving corps speed.

The Titans have given up 20 passing touchdowns in nine games and have struggled to stop opposing passing offenses, so this game has some shootout potential despite two inexperienced quarterbacks getting the start. The Titans allow 272.7 passing yards per game, and their secondary really misses departed free agent Cortland Finnegan.

Running Game Thoughts: Surprisingly, Miami has worked second-year runner Daniel Thomas into the offense more at the expense of Reggie Bush, who was having another fine season following his career-best 2011 rushing numbers. Thomas has even seen work on passing downs, and while he’s developed into a fine blocker, he’s not nearly the explosive player that Bush is in open space. Thomas has done well with his opportunities, so the split may continue going forward.

The Titans defense also struggles against the run (141.6 ypg, 9 rush TDs), so the Phins can attack on the ground this week confidently. The soft matchup combined with the potential heavy workload makes starting either Miami back a decent option this week, especially for those with bye-week concerns.

Ryan Tannehill: 265 pass yds 1 TD / 15 rush yds
Brian Hartline: 85 rec yds
Davone Bess: 50 rec yds
Jabar Gaffney: 35 rec yds
Anthony Fasano: 35 rec yds, 1 TD
Reggie Bush: 80 rush yds, 1 TD / 25 rec yds
Daniel Thomas: 45 rush yds, 1 TD / 15 rec yds

Prediction: Dolphins 30, Titans 27 ^ Top

Jets @ Seahawks - (Caron)

Passing Game Thoughts: The Jets headed into their bye week after an embarrassing loss at home to the Miami Dolphins - a game where they scored just nine points. The problems for this passing game have been long documented, but it certainly hasn’t helped that their top wide receiver, Santonio Holmes, has been on the IR since Week 4. Sanchez, who has thrown multiple touchdowns just twice this season, has not been the fantasy surprise that he was a year ago and with Tim Tebow breathing down his neck, the pressure is mounting. If Sanchez can come up with a big game this week, he could secure himself the starting role through the rest of the season.

With a week of rest under their belt, Sanchez and the New York passing game will have to get back on track in a hurry as they go up against one of the league’s most formidable defenses in one of the loudest stadiums in the country. The Seahawks, whose secondary might just be the most intimidating in the league, have allowed zero touchdown passes against in four of their nine games this season, including an absolute beatdown on Christian Ponder and the Vikings last week where they allowed just 63 yards passing. Sanchez might be a better passer than Ponder is at this point, but his receivers are unquestionably worse, with the only real consistent target being Dustin Keller who has caught seven passes in each of his past two games.

Running Game Thoughts: After scoring a total of four touchdowns in two weeks, Jets running back Shonn Greene fell back to earth a bit in his last game when the Dolphins held him to just 77 rushing yards. Greene did go over the century mark in total yards, however, which is saying something against one of the league’s better defenses at stopping opposing running backs. Greene had been humiliatingly bad from Weeks 2 - 5, but three straight games of solid production have him on fantasy radars once again.

Unfortunately, it’s not likely he’ll get a lot of room this week as Greene will be running against another premier run defense. Seattle has been great against the run all season, having allowed just four total rushing touchdowns, two of which came against perhaps the league’s most talented back, Adrian Peterson. Greene has never ran against the Seahawks before so we don’t have a sampling to give us any indication on if he might have the style to succeed, but the numbers don’t look great for the entire Jets offense this week. If Sanchez and the passing game can’t move the ball down the field, Greene likely won’t have many opportunities to score, which limits his potential for a big fantasy game.

Mark Sanchez: 165 pass yds, 1 TD, 2 INT
Jeremy Kerley: 35 rec yds, 1 TD
Stephen Hill: 40 rec yds
Dustin Keller: 70 rec yds
Shonn Greene: 65 rush yds, 10 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: With five touchdown passes and only one interception in his past two games, is rookie quarterback Russell Wilson a fantasy consideration? Maybe. After an ugly performance against the 49ers in Week 7, the Seahawks signal-caller has been significantly more efficient in recent weeks and has now turned in three 15+ point days in his past four starts. Wide receiver Sidney Rice has also started to gain some momentum as he has scored a touchdown in three of his past four games as well. Unfortunately, Rice’s best yardage total remains the 81 yards he achieved against the Patriots in Week 6 and he hasn’t caught more than six passes in any game this year, which limits his upside.

With Rice likely to be blanketed by Antonio Cromartie, Wilson might need to look for other options in the passing game to exploit this Jets defense who have been fairly good at shutting down opposing quarterbacks this season. After they allowed five touchdowns in their first two games, the Jets have settled down, allowing just a total of four passing touchdowns against them over their past six games combined. Wilson has been improving in recent weeks and he may produce a decent fantasy day, but it’s hard to believe that he’ll suddenly come out of his shell of being a glorified “game manager”.

Running Game Thoughts: Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch continues to be one of the most consistent backs in the league, having already rushed for over 95 yards in six of his first nine games this season. Lynch ran all over the Vikings in Week 9 with a season-high 124 yards and a score, but his production in the passing game remains very low. He has only caught a total of 13 passes this season, which makes him a significantly better option in standard-scoring leagues than he is in PPR leagues. Nevertheless, regardless of your scoring system, Lynch remains a RB1 on most teams and has to be in lineups this week after three straight 100+ yard games.

Lynch will look to make it four straight this week against the Jets, a team who has allowed 100+ rushing yards against in six of their eight games this season. The only team who hasn’t had at least a decent fantasy day against them has been the Indianapolis Colts who have struggled to run the ball all year no matter their opposition. One thing to be aware of, though, is that in seven career games against the Jets, Lynch has only averaged 62 yards per game and run for a total of two touchdowns.

Russell Wilson: 155 pass yds, 1 TD, 1 INT
Sidney Rice: 60 rec yds, 1 TD
Golden Tate: 40 rec yds
Zach Miller: 30 rec yds
Marshawn Lynch: 115 rush yds, 1 TD, 5 rec yds

Prediction: Seahawks 23, Jets 13 ^ Top

Rams @ 49ers - (Caron)

Passing Game Thoughts: A former No. 1 overall draft pick, Sam Bradford hasn’t exactly lived up to the expectations that the Rams had for him. He hasn’t been a complete disaster this year, but Bradford has just two games where he’s thrown for over 300 yards and two games where he’s thrown for multiple touchdown passes. Normally this would indicate a strong running game, but the Rams haven’t been particularly good there either. Thankfully, there is hope as slot receiver Danny Amendola is expected back this week after missing three games due to injury. Amendola is the team’s best option in the passing game and with Chris Givens lighting the league on fire with his deep pass receptions and Brandon Gibson filling in nicely as a No. 2 option, Sam Bradford’s best games could be yet to come.

The breakout might have to wait another week though, as Bradford and the Rams have perhaps their toughest task of the season when they head to San Francisco to face the 49ers. San Francisco has been an absolute killer against opposing quarterbacks, having allowed a total of just six passing touchdowns against through their first eight games, while intercepting six passes as well. Worse yet, in their past five games, the 49ers have allowed only one touchdown through the air. Needless to say, Bradford has his work cut out for him and is not a realistic fantasy option unless you’re in a very, very deep league.

Running Game Thoughts: The downfall of Steven Jackson has continued in St. Louis as the Rams franchise back has scored just one touchdown all season and is yet to eclipse 80 yards on the ground. Part of the issue has been the offensive line, some has been his lack of burst, but perhaps the biggest thing holding Jackson back right now is rookie tailback Daryl Richardson who has essentially earned himself a 50-50 timeshare going forward. With both of these backs getting touches but not a high enough number to create much fantasy success, this is an ugly situation for owners of either player at the moment.

As if the timeshare wasn’t bad enough, Jackson and Richardson will have an even worse time this week as they go up against the league’s top-ranked fantasy run defense. The 49ers have allowed just one rushing touchdown on the season and have held opposing teams to under 70 rushing yards in five of their first eight games, including a dominating performance where they held the Cardinals backs to just six yards on the ground in Week 8. San Francisco’s defense is no joke and given the dicey situation in the St. Louis backfield, it’s hard to recommend either Jackson or Richardson. If there’s anything to watch in this matchup, it could be to see if Jackson is finally supplanted as the top rusher in St. Louis going forward.

Sam Bradford: 185 pass yds, 1 TD, 2 INT
Danny Amendola: 70 rec yds
Chris Givens: 55 rec yds
Brandon Gibson: 35 rec yds, 1 TD
Steven Jackson: 40 rush yds, 10 rec yds
Daryl Richardson: 30 rush yds, 10 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: If someone would have told you that at the halfway point of the season, Alex Smith would already have four games of multiple passing touchdowns, you probably would have called them crazy. But with 12 touchdowns on the year, that’s exactly where Smith is. The 49ers QB became known as one of the better game managers in the league in 2011 when he led his team to a division title by just not turning the ball over. Smith’s interceptions are still down this year and he has taken better command of the offense as a whole. His receivers are still wildly inconsistent, but Smith has been a low-end QB1 and he seems to only be getting better.

The Rams started the season off as one of the league’s best pass defenses, but after a two-week streak against Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady, suddenly their season stats don’t look quite as impressive. The Rams had only allowed two touchdown passes through their first five games but have since allowed nine passing scores in their past three. Alex Smith doesn’t possess the talent or weapons that Rodgers or Brady do, but he’s better than the majority of the QB’s that the Rams have played this season, so it’s not unlikely that Smith gets to five games with multiple scores this year.

Running Game Thoughts: 49ers running back Frank Gore has been riding the highs of a bounce back season, with five double-digit fantasy days already in 2012. The stats haven’t come against cakewalk defenses beither, as Gore punished the Seahawks and their highly-touted defense in Week 7, with 182 total yards. He hasn’t been quite as involved in the passing game this year as he has been in the past, but Gore’s fantasy totals have been great for anyone who drafted him. With his sore ribs now in the past, Gore should be ready to get things going again in Week 10.

Gore has a nice matchup this week against a Rams defense that had allowed 225 total yards and two touchdowns to the Patriots’ group of running backs in Week 8. They’ve had a lot of trouble stopping productive running games as they were also beaten up by Marshawn Lynch and the Seahawks in Week 4. Gore himself has had quite a bit of success against the Rams throughout his career and has rushed for 11 touchdowns in 11 games against them while averaging 94 total yards per game. If Gore’s ribs are better and he’s able to take the full workload, look for him to have a very solid fantasy day.

Alex Smith: 210 pass yds, 2 TD
Michael Crabtree: 60 rec yds
Randy Moss: 30 rec yds, 1 TD
Mario Manningham: 30 rec yds
Vernon Davis: 60 rec yds, 1 TD
Frank Gore: 90 rush yds, 1 TD, 10 rec yds
Kendall Hunter: 30 rush yds

Prediction: 49ers 30, Rams 16 ^ Top

Giants @ Bengals - (Anderson)

Passing Game Thoughts: The first seven weeks of the season, the Giants passing game looked like one of the very best in the NFL. The past two weeks, however, the G-men have looked average at best. Sure they have played two above-average defenses (Cowboys and Steelers), but with the level of talent the Giants have on offense, they should be putting up much better numbers against even the best NFL defenses (317 total passing yards, no touchdowns in the past two games). After last week’s loss to the Steelers, Hakeem Nicks suggested that teams may be catching on to what the Giants are trying to do through the air, and that his team needs to adjust accordingly. While the past two weeks have not been pretty, we must also look at the bigger picture and realize that New York is still among the top 10 teams in terms of passing yards per game (262) and passing yards per attempt (7.6), and they have actually given up the very least number of sacks in the NFL (9). While most of Eli’s other numbers (61 Comp%, ranked 19th; 85.5 QB rating, 17th) are not near elite status, he is still efficient. And with two super-talented wide receivers, an above-average pass-catching tight end, and a pass heavy attack (11th most pass attempts in the league), Eli remains a top 10 QB who may actually present a decent buy-low option right now.

This week, the Bengals may give the Giants that boost they are looking for in the pass game, as they are coming off a game where they let Eli’s brother complete over 77 percent of his passes for 291 yards and three touchdowns (with two interceptions). While the Bengals defense suffered some early-season injuries but are now healthier, they still rank as one of the bottom 10 teams in quarterback rating allowed (99), completion percentage allowed (68.3), and yards per attempt allowed (7.9). They do rank 10th quarterback sacks, but they have cooled down considerably after a hot start and did not get to Peyton even once last week. While this is not anywhere near a dream matchup for fantasy players (Bengals are just average in points allowed to QBs and WRs), the numbers should certainly be better than the past two weeks. This week Eli should be started with confidence as a lower-end QB1, and Nicks and Cruz should both be safe starts as high-end WR2s. Tight end Martellus Bennett did sustain an injury against the Steelers last week, so watch his status during the week, but if he plays he is a decent TE option against a Bengals defense that is a little more generous to opposing fantasy TEs (giving up sixth most points on average).

Running Game Thoughts: In both the NFL and the fantasy realm, the Giants running game is solid yet unspectacular. Currently, they are 15th in rush yards per game (109.4) and are averaging a decent 4.2 yards per carry, good for 14th in the league. The Giants have scored 11 rushing touchdowns (tied for 4th), but for fantasy players this is a frustrating stat because the scores have been split mostly between Bradshaw (4) and Brown (6), which makes both players (when healthy) somewhat risky starts. Last week, the Giants had a down week against a tough Pittsburgh rush defense, putting up just 68 yards on the ground, with Bradshaw more than doubling Brown in carries (15 to 7) and yards (48 to 20), although Brown had the lone touchdown for the Giants. When both are healthy, this seems like the formula the Giants are going to go with, with Bradshaw getting more carries between the 20's and Brown cleaning up around the goal line. In last week’s game, Brown suffered a shoulder injury and did not return but seemed fine after the game. Still, this is a situation to monitor, as his absence would be a big upgrade to Bradshaw’s value.

While the Bengals did hold the Denver run game to just 68 yards last week, they remain a below-average run defense. On the year, they rank 17th in rush yards given up per game (117) and have given up nine rushing touchdowns, tied for fourth most. As a fantasy defense, they are also giving up the 10th most fantasy points to opposing running backs on average. A game away from home is far from the best matchup, but it should see Bradshaw return to solid RB2 status, especially if Brown is banged up enough to lose some carries.

Eli Manning: 280 pass yds, 2 TDs 1 INT
Hakeem Nicks: 70 rec yds, 1 TD
Victor Cruz: 85 rec yds
Martellus Bennett: 50 rec yds, 1 TD
Ahmad Bradshaw: 75 rush yds, 20 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: The Bengals pass game continues to put up good yardage (260 ypg, 11th in the NFL) and decent touchdown numbers (15, tied for 8th) but have cooled off the past two games (404 yds, 2 TDs, 2 INTs combined) and are getting picked off (11, 4th most) and sacked (22, 8th most) too many times. Andy Dalton has put up elite numbers at times (328 yds, 3 TDs, 1 INT in Week 3) but has also looked overmatched at times as well (105 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT, 50% completion vs. Pittsburgh). Dalton has also thrown interceptions in eight straight games, a dubious Bengals record, and is on pace to throw nine picks more than he did last season. The one constant, positive part of the Bengals passing game has been, and should continue to be, wide receiver A.J. Green. Green is sixth in receiving yards (735) and tied for first in touchdowns (8). Despite not having many other weapons around him to take the pressure off, Green has become a matchup-proof start in the fantasy world, and this week he remains a strong WR1 option.

The Giants pass defense has struggled this season, ranking in the bottom 10 in yards per game (264), yards per pass attempt (8.2), and fantasy points allowed to opposing QBs and WRs. While these numbers might indicate a huge advantage for Dalton and the Bengals, a closer look reveals it may be a bit tougher than imagined. This is because the Giants sack and intercept opposing quarterbacks at an elite rate, ranking third and first in those two categories, respectively. Knowing that Dalton is prone to both getting sacked and throwing the interception, his upside is certainly limited in this matchup, even if the yardage numbers are there. This week I see Dalton as a solid bet to get 250-plus yards and at least one touchdown; however, two or more picks is certainly possible, as well, along with a number of stalled drives, thanks to the pressure the Giants put on the quarterback. As stated earlier, Green is matchup-proof and should see double digit targets in this matchup. The only other Bengals receiver to consider is TE Jermaine Gresham, who broke out last week for 108 yards. While I do not see him as a top option just yet, he is trending upward and can be considered just inside the top 10 TEs this week. No other Bengals receiver is fantasy-starter worthy at this point.

Running Game Thoughts: I’ll say this about the Bengals run game and their main running back, BenJarvus Green-Ellis: they are consistent. Certainly not consistently great or consistently exciting, just plain old consistent. In his last three games, Green-Ellis carried the ball between 16 and 18 times for between 56 and 69 yards. Certainly not good stats for fantasy, but at least you have a good idea what you're going to get each week. For the season, the Bengals rank in the bottom 10 in both rush yards per game (95.9) and rush yards per attempt (3.8).

After getting gouged by Isaac Redman for 147 yards on the ground last week, the Giants present a similar matchup for the Bengals, as they tend to give up a healthy amount of yardage (118 ypg). Yet, despite their generosity in giving up yards, the Giants have only allowed four touchdowns to opposing running backs, which is the main reason they are actually one of the top 10 toughest teams for fantasy RBs to score against. Taking all this into account, I still expect the Bengals to do what they have done in most games this season—that is, get between 85 and 100 yards on the ground with a little less than a 50 percent chance of getting a rushing touchdown. For fantasy owners, Green-Ellis is startable, but if you own him, you should know by now that he is nothing more than a high-end RB3 in most matchups, and this one should be no different.

Andy Dalton: 270 pass yds, 2 TD, 2 INT
A.J. Green: 90 rec yds, 1 TD
Jermaine Gresham: 50 rec yds, 1 TD
Andrew Hawkins: 55 rec yds
BenJarvus Green-Ellis: 70 rush yds, 10 rec yds

Prediction: Giants 27, Bengals 23 ^ Top

Lions @ Vikings - (Anderson)

Passing Game Thoughts: Last week’s performance by the Detroit passing game was typical of the way their season is going thus far. Despite putting up 285 yards, Matthew Stafford failed to throw a touchdown, and despite racking up 129 yards receiving, Calvin Johnson failed to get in the end zone. For the season, the Lions rank first in passing yards per game (307), yet they are tied for only 19th in passing touchdowns (10). For fantasy players, whose main source of points are often touchdowns, this has been a frustrating season, as the cumulative stats are there but the big touchdown plays are severely lacking. To help remedy this situation, the Vikings have been kind enough to show up on the schedule one week after letting Russell Wilson throw for three touchdowns against them, and they have now given up the eighth most (tied) passing touchdowns in the league with 14.

They have also given up the 10th most points to fantasy QBs and the 11th most to WRs. If you have Stafford and Johnson, you are certainly starting them most if not all weeks, and that does not change this week, as both should be mid-range starters. The rest of the Lions receiving corps is where it gets much more cloudy. After Nate Burleson went down with an injury, Titus Young exploded for 100 yards receiving and two touchdowns yet followed that up last week (in an easier matchup) with just two catches for 20 yards. Ryan Broyles’ playing time also increased, but if it weren't for two touchdowns over the past three weeks, he would have very average stats (140 yards through those three games). Even TE Brandon Pettigrew, who is at the very least a strong PPR play, has tailed off a bit the past few weeks, catching just one pass for 11 yards last week. What this all means is that somebody other than Megatron will probably have a decent-to-great game this week, but depending on how the game plays out, your guess as to who it might be is as good as mine. If I had to pick, I would go with Young, as he seems to be the most explosive. But even he is a risky low-end WR3 this week and going forward until he becomes a bit more consistent.

Running Game Thoughts: The Lions running game had been mostly average and underwhelming, that is until last week. Against the Jaguars, they ran for 149 yards (they were averaging fewer than 100 before the game) and four touchdowns (they had six total prior). The two main contributors to this monster day were Mikel Leshoure, who had 70 yards and three touchdowns on 16 carries, and Joique Bell, who racked up 73 yards and a touchdown on just 13 carries. Of course, their opponent was one of the worst defenses in the league, but it was still a great sign of life for a run game that had been struggling for weeks.

The Vikings are not as bad as the Jaguars, but they are not exactly an elite run-stopping defense either. Coming off a game against the Seahawks where they gave up 195 yards on the ground (including 124 to Lynch), the Vikings now rank in the lower half of the league in rushing yards (1056) and rushing touchdowns (7) allowed, although the yards per carry they allow (4.0) still ranks them in the top 10 defenses. While their overall defense is not that bad, the Vikings are coming off four straight games of allowing a 100-yard rusher. In fact, through the past five weeks they have been the seventh easiest defense for opposing fantasy RBs to score against, and the second easiest over past three weeks. In other words, the Lions run game is hot while the Vikings run defense is ice cold. I expect this trend to continue when the Lions rack up over 100 yards on the ground this week. The issue for fantasy players, however, is that this backfield is looking more and more like a dreaded committee. While Leshoure is the clear starter, Bell comes in a lot for passing downs and at the end of games for mop-up duty. While I do not expect as the numbers they had last week, I do think Leshoure makes for a decent mid-range RB2 in this matchup, while Bell makes for a low-end RB3 with upside (especially in PPR leagues). Pay close attention to how this committee shapes up, as it could be a valuable asset in the fantasy playoffs.

Matthew Stafford: 280 pass yds, 2 TD, 1 INT
Calvin Johnson: 105 rec yds, 1 TD
Titus Young: 70 rec yds
Ryan Broyles: 55 rec yds
Brandon Pettigrew: 40 rec yds
Mikel Leshoure: 75 rush yds, 15 rec yds
Joique Bell: 35 rush yds, 30 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: The Seahawks are a great pass defense, no question about it, but 63 yards, no touchdowns and a pick, Christian Ponder? Really? And the sad part is, that was only five yards more than he threw three weeks ago against Arizona. To put it lightly, the Vikings pass game is an inconsistent mess right now. It’s not that they don't have any talent; on the contrary, Percy Harvin is one of the most talented receivers in the league, Kyle Rudolph is an emerging physical force at tight end, and Ponder himself has shown flashes in his first season and a half. Whatever the problem is, the statistics show that the Vikings are one of the worst passing teams in the league, ranking 30th in pass yards per game (189), and 28th in pass yards per attempt (6.4). To make matters worse, Harvin injured his ankle in last week’s loss, is questionable for this week’s game, and will certainly be in pain if he does play.

To further complicate matters, the Lions pass defense is doing well this year, giving up just 214 passing yards per game (good for eighth in the NFL) and 6.7 passing yards per attempt (9th in the league). On the bright side of things, the Lions do give up the seventh highest quarterback completion percentage in the league (65.1) and have let very mediocre passing teams (Seattle and Jacksonville) throw for an average of 228 yards and two touchdowns against them the past two weeks. The bottom line here is, unless Ponder has a dream matchup or has been putting together multiple successful games in a row, he is not start-worthy in 10- or 12-team leagues, and this matchup is far from easy. As for the rest of the Vikings receivers, watch Harvin’s status up to game time. If he goes, it will be very hard to sit him, as he has been productive in spite of the team’s troubles. If he does play, consider him a low-end WR2 because he is banged up and Ponder is slumping. The only other member of the pass game to consider is Rudolph at TE. But since his hot start out of the gates, he has really cooled off and is also not-startable in regular leagues until he shows he is a bigger part of the game plan.

Running Game Thoughts: The Vikings run game is just about the most predictable and consistent unit in the league. Put simply, the Vikings run game is Adrian Peterson. He is very good, he will run the ball a good amount, and the result will be very good from both an NFL and fantasy perspective. Even though he got only 17 carries last week, AD made the most of them, racking up 182 yards and two touchdowns against a normally solid Seahawks defense. For the season, the Vikings are fifth in rush yards per game (145.4) and fourth in rush yards per attempt (5.2). Peterson leads the NFL in rushing (957) and is behind only C.J. Spiller in rush yards per attempt (5.7) while also leading the league in the most 20-plus yard runs (11).

As a rush defense, the Lions are actually not that bad, ranking 14th in yards allowed per game (106.3) and allowing only two rushing touchdowns to this point. Detroit also boasts one of the league’s five toughest defenses for fantasy RBs to score against this season. Add all this up with the fact that this is a division rivalry game, and the matchup is certainly not ideal for Peterson. The difference here is that Peterson has defied the odds and the matchups time and time again, and I expect nothing less this time. On his home turf this week, Peterson is a very safe start as an RB1, even if he doesn't put up his best numbers of the season—or even close to it. Start him with confidence, as a 100-yard game is very likely again.

Christian Ponder: 195 pass yds, 1 TD, 15 rush yds
Percy Harvin: 45 rec yds
Jerome Simpson: 40 rec yds
Kyle Rudolph: 50 rec yds
Adrian Peterson: 110 rush yds, 1 TD, 15 rec yds

Prediction: Lions 27, Vikings 24 ^ Top

Raiders @ Ravens - (Anderson)

Passing Game Thoughts: While the Raiders' success is underwhelming thus far, they are putting up some numbers in the pass game, regardless. They currently rank seventh in the league with 281 pass yards per game, thanks in part to last week’s 414-yard effort against the Bucs. From a fantasy standpoint, the Raiders cumulative passing stats are impressive yet frustrating, because no player has stood out as a big-time stud—or even a consistent starter, for that matter. Carson Palmer has the yards (2,355) but is just average—and inconsistent—with touchdowns (13) and also turns the ball over too much (12 turnovers). The ball is spread around too much to make anyone a safe, consistent fantasy receiver, although wideouts Denarius Moore and Darrius Heyward-Bey and tight end Myers have all put up enough numbers to at least consider them each week as flex options.

The Ravens are banged up on defense, having lost their best cover cornerback and starting middle linebacker, though they did get linebacker Terrell Suggs back from injury and have been a tough defense for opposing fantasy QBs and WRs to score against (top 12 toughest for each). A large part of this is because they has given up only six passing touchdowns all year (tied for first in the NFL). Now, on the bright side, the Ravens do give up chunks of passing yardage, allowing 247 pass yards per game (11th most). This is an interesting matchup because the Raiders' strength seems to be racking up yards but scoring few touchdowns, while the Ravens tend to give up a bunch of yards but allow few touchdowns. In other words, this could be a shootout in terms of yards through the air, but low-scoring as the Ravens tighten up in the red zone. As a mid-range QB2, Palmer is startable in this matchup, although he is probably just outside the top 10 options at QB this week. As for the receiving corps, tight end Myers seems to be gaining momentum as a favorite target of Palmer and is certainly a good, mid-range TE1 option in PPR leagues—although he drops a bit in standard-leagues because of his lack of touchdown potential (just two so far). Both Heyward-Bey and Moore could be considered high-end WR3s in this matchup, although I prefer Moore between the two because of the higher number of targets he receives. The frustrating part is that the Raiders have talented pass-catchers, they just spread the ball around too much to make any of them very reliable.

Running Game Thoughts: “The poor get poorer” is an appropriate statement to make regarding the Raiders running game this week. Oakland is already averaging the second fewest rushing yards per game (77.3) and attempt (3.6) despite having arguably one of the most talented running backs in Darren McFadden. This week McFadden is doubtful with a high ankle sprain, as is his backup Mike Goodson, so this could really get ugly. It’s a shame because playing the Ravens actually represents a pretty decent matchup on the ground, as they have allowed the fifth most rushing yards per game (139.5) and are among the top 10 easiest defenses for fantasy RBs to score against this season. The players in line to take over rushing duties are Taiwan Jones, a quick and explosive but undersized back, and Marcel Reece, a large but athletic converted fullback who caught eight balls for 95 yards and a touchdown last week but did not receive a carry.

While this matchup provides a great opportunity for one of these guys as a low-end RB2, the problem is guessing which one and how they will be used. This makes it hard to strongly recommend either one as more than a flex play, but I'm predicting Reece will end up with more fantasy points, thanks mostly to his receiving skills. It is certainly possible that Jones gets more carries and even breaks a couple of them off for big gains, but he is much more of a high-risk, high-reward play compared to Reece’s slight-risk, medium-reward. Unless you are desperate or a big-time gambler, I would look for better or safer options this week.

Carson Palmer: 305 pass yds, 1 TD, 1 INT
Darrius Heyward-Bey: 70 rec yds
Denarius Moore: 75 rec yds
Brandon Myers: 55 rec yds
Taiwan Jones: 45 rush yds, 25 rec yds
Marcel Reece: 30 rush yds, 40 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: The difference between the Ravens passing offense the first four games compared to the last four have been night and day. Flacco averaged 317 passing yards, 8.3 yards per attempt and 1.75 touchdowns the first four games and 180 passing yards, 6.4 yards per attempt and 0.75 touchdowns the past four games. Whatever the reasons may be for the decrease in production (opponents, play-calling, etc.), it has significantly (and negatively) affected the fantasy value of Flacco and the Ravens receivers. Speaking of those receivers, the Ravens' big three—that is, wideouts Anquan Boldin and Torrey Smith with Dennis Pitta at tight end—have all had their ups and downs this season, ranging from a two-catch 7-yard performance from Boldin to a 127-yard, two-touchdown day from Smith. Throughout it all, each has had days that would put them as starters and each has had days that would barely put them as flex options.

While it is hard to predict exactly who will be “on” this week, a look at the matchup shows the likelihood of at least an above-average day from the Ravens passing game. Currently, the Raiders pass defense is slightly below average in most categories, especially opposing quarterback completion percentage (66.5, ranked 29th) and quarterback rating (96.7, 25th). Add this to the fact that the Raiders are the 11th easiest team for both fantasy QBs and WRs to score against, and you have the makings of what could be a very productive day for the Ravens offense. While I do not think Flacco’s early season numbers of 300-plus yards and more than one touchdown are likely to return this week, I would safely start him as a high-end QB2, probably just barely inside the top 12. At receiver, I still think Smith provides the best package of high reward, medium risk (think low-end WR2) on the Ravens. Although if you prefer lower risk, lower reward, Boldin could be a nice high-end WR3 in this matchup. As for Pitta, his role in the offense has really diminished since his hot start, causing me to rank him outside the top 10 tight ends this week. That means you should probably look for a better option until the Ravens show a renewed trust in him.

Running Game Thoughts: While Bernard Pierce is slowly but surely making an impact on the Ravens rushing attack (7 car, 26 yds. 1 TD last week), the Baltimore offense still goes through Ray Rice. While he's not being given as many carries compared to previous years, Rice is still 11th in rushing (622 yards) and tied for third in rushing touchdowns (6). As a team, the Ravens have become a little more pass-happy than in years past, and therefore are just 16th in rush yards per game (108.3). Despite this, Rice remains one of the top three or four options at RB most weeks.

This week that streak will certainly continue, as the Raiders run defense is fresh off a historic home defeat where they gave up 251 yards on the ground to Tampa running back Doug Martin. This week the game will be in Baltimore, and the Ravens sound like they will return to a more Rice–centric offensive attack. I look for Rice to have a top 3 RB performance, thanks in part to a Raiders defense that has been the fifth most generous to fantasy RBs on a per-game average. If you have Rice on your fantasy team, enjoy the ride this week; if you are playing against him, good luck to you.

Joe Flacco: 285 pass yds, 1 TD, 1 INT
Torrey Smith: 70 rec yds, 1 TD
Anquan Boldin: 70 rec yds
Dennis Pitta: 50 rec yds
Ray Rice: 120 rush yds, 2 TD, 20 rec yds

Prediction: Ravens 27, Raiders 23 ^ Top

Texans @ Bears - (Anderson)

Passing Game Thoughts: Thanks to both an elite defense and a top-tier rushing attack, the Houston passing game has not had to do a whole lot this season. They have attempted the 7th fewest passes this season and are one of just a few teams who actually run more then they pass (254 pass vs. 280 rush attempts). Despite this disparity, the Texans have not only put up decent passing yardage (234 ypg, 16th in the NFL) but have been efficient overall in the passing game (63.4 completion percentage, 13th; 7.6 ypa, 8th; 94.3 QB rating, -9th). As for fantasy, QB Matt Schaub has been steady and productive but has yet to put up a 300-yard game this season. In the same way, WR Andre Johnson has been fairly consistent and productive overall but, besides his Week 1 performance (119 yds, 1 TD), he hasn’t had many more fantasy “stud” games. The only other guy worth mentioning is TE Owen Daniels who is, somewhat quietly, having the best season of his career, with 478 yards and a team-high five receiving touchdowns.

Now the scary news for the Texans passing game: they head to Chicago to face a defense that has picked off a league-high 17 passes, sacked quarterbacks 25 times (tied for third), and allowed just seven passing touchdowns (tied for third) and the very lowest quarterback rating (63.0) in the entire league. From a fantasy standpoint the news does not get any better, as the Bears defense is the fifth toughest for opposing fantasy QBs and the 11th toughest for WRs. From a non-fantasy perspective, I actually think the Texans pass game matches up well with the Bears defense because they are very conservative, do not turn the ball over much, and throw high completion percentage passes. Since we are mainly concerned with the fantasy implications of the game, however, expecting any member of the Texans passing game to have a big day is probably foolish. Look for better options at QB this week, as Schaub is usually just an average QB2 anyway, but in this matchup he is certainly outside the top 12. As for Johnson, it is tough to sit a guy with so much potential, and I wouldn’t do it unless you somehow have several other top 10 WRs, but Johnson should be considered no more than a mid-range WR2 in this week’s game. As for Daniels, he was said to be very sore after suffering a hip injury in last week’s game, but it looks as though he'll play, barring a big setback. This is certainly not an ideal matchup for Daniels, but the Bears are a bit more generous to tight ends than to wide receivers, so Daniels should at least be a very low-end TE1 option this week.

Running Game Thoughts: This season the Houston run game is a lot like most people thought it would be: dominant. Through eight games, the Texans rank eighth in rushing yards per game (138), and are tied for first with 12 rushing touchdowns. What is a little surprising is how the carries have been split up. Going into the season many people expected (feared?) that Ben Tate would take away a larger chunk of carries from Arian Foster, not only because Tate was so effective last season, but also to keep Foster healthy and fresh all year long. To this point, Tate (and all other backup running backs) have just 88 carries combined, compared to Foster’s 192 attempts. This has some to do with Tate’s injury status (he will probably be out again this week), but also the overall ineffectiveness of the running backs (other than Foster) to move the ball consistently. Foster currently ranks fifth in rushing yards (770), and easily first in rushing touchdowns (10). He, of course, is matchup proof, although his matchups lately have not even been in question.

This week, the Texans run game will probably face their toughest opponent so far. Not only will they travel to Chicago, they will have to face a defense that is giving up just 88 yards per game on the ground (6th in the NFL) and has also given up only two rushing touchdowns on the year (tied for 2nd). Fantasy-wise, the Bears defense is also the third toughest defense for RBs to score against. On the bright side for owners of Foster, the Bears did just give up 141 yards and a touchdown to Chris Johnson last week (although much of that came on an 80-yard run), and the Texans defense is certainly good enough to keep the run game relevant all game long. The bottom line is that if you own Foster, you are starting him every week, so there is little thinking involved in that decision. While he may not be a top 3 RB option this week, he certainly has the talent and the workload to be a low-end RB1, even if the matchup is not ideal.

Matt Schaub: 215 pass yds, 1 TD, 1 INT
Andre Johnson: 55 rec yds, 1 TD
Owen Daniels: 55 rec yds
Kevin Walter: 35 rec yds
Arian Foster: 90 rush yds, 1 TD, 20 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: The Bears have lost just one game thus far, but their passing game is certainly not the main reason for that. Currently, the Bears rank 29th in pass yards per game (196), 22nd in completion percentage (59.9 percent), and have been sacked more times (28) than all but two teams. Jay Cutler has looked average at best most games, but there is one very bright spot in this unit. Despite a below-average output from their passing attack, Brandon Marshall ranks fourth in targets (90), second in receiving yardage (797), and is tied for third in receiving touchdowns (7). While the other Chicago pass catchers are just an afterthought most weeks, Cutler continues to feed Marshall on a weekly basis, much to the delight of Marshall fantasy owners.

The Texans are certainly going to be a challenge, as they have allowed the fourth fewest passing yards per game (204) and a league-low 54.5 completion percentage. In addition, they are tied for third in sacking opposing quarterbacks (25), which could be a huge problem for Cutler and the sack-prone offense. I expect Chicago to use a defensive, run-the-ball, conservative game plan, so starting any member of the Bears passing attack is a risky proposition. There are certainly better options than Jay Cutler at QB most weeks, and this week is definitely no different, as Cutler should be under constant pressure and forced into some ugly throws. I cannot recommend benching Marshall this week, even though the matchup says he should struggle. He simply gets too many targets to bench him any week, and even this week he should see double-digit targets—even if he catches fewer than he normally does. Still, do not expect more than average WR2 numbers from Marshall in this tough game.

Running Game Thoughts: The Bears running game has been solid all year, thanks in large part to the great situations their defense has been putting them in. The offense has been able to run the ball all game long in almost all of their games thus far. They are currently eighth in rushing attempts (238), 11th in rushing yards per game (128.5), and 12th in rushing touchdowns (7). Despite the threat of Michael Bush taking away a bunch of carries, and despite an early season injury, Matt Forte is 14th in rushing yards per game (77), and seems to be picking up steam, as he is averaging 90 yards on the ground his past three games. As the weather gets colder and the Bears play more home games, I would expect the game plan to turn more run-heavy, and Forte should certainly benefit from this as the year goes on.

However, Chicago's recent running success may stall a bit this week as they face one of the best run defense in the league, if not the very best. The Texans currently rank second in rush yards allowed per game (82.4) and are the only team to not allow a rushing touchdown all season long. In addition, the Texans defense has been the very toughest for fantasy RBs to score points against all season long (on average). Despite the very tough matchup, Forte will still easily get 15 or more touches, and that alone makes him a decent, but very low-end RB2. While he will not come close to carrying your team this week, the game is at home, it should be very close, and the workload Forte should get makes him a viable starter, even if there are many better options.

Jay Cutler: 180 pass yds, 1 TD, 2 INT
Brandon Marshall: 55 rec yds, 1 TD
Earl Bennett: 35 rec yds
Matt Forte: 70 rush yds, 30 rec yds

Prediction: Texans 20, Bears 17 ^ Top

Chiefs @ Steelers - (Anderson)

Passing Game Thoughts: There are a number of bad passing teams this season, but the Chiefs passing game is not only bad, it is downright ugly. Consider these numbers: 6:14 touchdown to interception ratio (worst in NFL), 208 pass yards per game (25th), 64.8 quarterback rating (worst), and 6.3 yards per pass attempt (29th). In addition, Matt Cassel, who was named the starter for this week’s game, has 18 turnovers himself! And he hasn’t even played in all their games! The only semi-bright spot in this unit is wide receiver Dwayne Bowe, who somehow has two 100-yard receiving games and has only one game all year in which he racked up less than 50 yards receiving.

As if the passing game weren't already struggling enough, in come the Steelers, who are not only giving up the least amount of passing yards per game (174), but have allowed the second lowest pass yards per attempt (5.9) and the third lowest completion percentage (55.6). And for those of you who may just be crazy enough to even consider starting Cassel this week...Don’t. The Steelers are the absolute toughest team for fantasy QBs to score against. The bottom line is that the Chiefs are most likely going to get beat bad, and their offense in general is going to have a very long night. The only guy remotely startable on the Chiefs passing attack is Bowe, and even he will likely have one of his worst games of the season. If you do start Bowe, consider him only a low-end WR3 because of the brutal road matchup and the current state of the passing game.

Running Game Thoughts: For being as productive as they are (149.9 ypg, 3rd in the NFL), the Chiefs run game is confusing, amazing, frustrating, and intriguing, all at the same time. At the start of the season, most people thought the run game would work like this: Charles gets 18 or more carries a game for 90 or more yards; Peyton Hillis gets 10-15 carries a game for 40-50 yards, along with some goal-line work. What the run game has produced is wild inconsistencies ranging from a 33-carry, 233-yard blowup to a five-carry, 4-yard disaster from Charles. Sprinkled in has been a very limited workload from an injured or unproductive Hillis, plus multiple carries from guys like Shaun Draughn and Dexter McCluster. While Charles has certainly been productive overall from a fantasy standpoint, he is also pretty risky on a week-to-week basis, as the play-calling has been erratic.

This week, the Chiefs situation does not look much clearer, as they face a Pittsburgh defense that is holding rushing offenses to 88.6 yards per game (tied for seventh) and are fresh off a game where they held the Giants (previously a top 12 rushing offense) to just 68 yards on the ground. On the season, the Steelers are also the fifth toughest defense for fantasy RBs to score against (third toughest the past three weeks). On top of it all, this game will be in Pittsburgh on a Monday night, which has to be one of the toughest atmospheres in all of football for opponents. While it is so tempting to start a guy with Charles’ potential, this looks like another let-down game where the Chiefs may need to abandon the run early if the Steelers get up big (which is likely to happen). If you are a Charles owner, you probably don't have much better options to start, so you could certainly do worse than a low-end RB2; you just have to hope the Chiefs utilize Charles more than they have the past few weeks, even if it is mostly in the passing game.

Matt Cassel: 205 pass yds, 2 INT
Dexter McCluster: 15 rush yds, 30 rec yds
Dwayne Bowe: 50 rec yds
Jamaal Charles: 50 rush yds, 45 rec yds
Peyton Hillis: 30 rush yds, 15 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: The Steelers rushing attack has really stepped up over the past few games, which has decreased the productivity of the pass game to some extent, though they are still a very capable unit. , The Steelers rank 10th in pass yards per game, averaging 262. They also boast the league’s fifth best completion percentage (66.9) and have a terrific touchdown to interception ratio of 16 to 4. I still hesitate to call Ben Roethlisberger a fantasy stud, but he is having one of the better statistical seasons of his career, throwing for at least 216 yards and one touchdown in every game this year. The Pittsburgh receivers are also very productive, though not explosive, as even Mike Wallace has had just one 100-yard receiving day compared to four this time last year. Still, it's hard to complain when this team has no less than three very fantasy-relevant receivers (Wallace, Antonio Brown, Heath Miller). However, this week they will be without one of those big three, as Brown is expected to miss the game with an ankle injury.

The Chiefs pass defense should certainly allow the Steelers to have a productive day, as they have allowed a league-high 8.9 yards per pass attempt and are tied for second worst in touchdowns allowed (17) and quarterback rating (106.3). In other words, for Steelers passing offense players, start ’em if ya got ’em. The only real negative I see against starting Roethlisberger, Wallace, Miller, and maybe even Sanders (Brown’s likely replacement), is that the Steelers may take a big lead by halftime and tap the breaks on the passing game for much of the second half. Even so, the amount of work these players will get early should be efficient and productive enough to make Ben a mid-range QB1, Wallace a solid WR1, Miller a decent TE1, and Sanders a high-end WR3 this week.

Running Game Thoughts: The Steelers run game is one of the most interesting units in the league this season. They started off horribly, averaging well under 100 yards the first five games, but the past three games they have exploded for 167, 140, and 158 yards, respectively. The team is also 3-0 in those games compared to just 2-3 in the first five, meaning the emphasis on the run game is probably here to stay. One would think this is great news for fantasy owners, but it has been frustrating more than anything because the backfield has yet to see just one guy a become a stud. In fact, there is no way to know which of their three running backs (Mendenhall, Redman, and Dwyer) will make an impact going forward. This week both Dwyer and Redman are expected to play, with Mendenhall likely a game-time decision. Last week Redman ran for 147 yards while the other two sat out with injuries. The week before that, Dwyer was the stud, running for 107 yards on just 17 carries, while the other guys sat out. Add this to the fact that running back coach Kirby Wilson declared Mendenhall the starter WHEN HEALTHY, and you have a three-headed problem in the backfield.

With this group facing a Chiefs defense that has given up the eighth most fantasy points to RBs thus far, it would certainly be nice to benefit from starting a Pittsburgh RB this week. But which one? Mendenhall will most likely miss this game while recovering from an Achilles injury, which leaves Dwyer and Redman. It is certainly possible that both will contribute significantly in this matchup, as the Pittsburgh run game should be featured all night long. But if forced to pick one guy, I would roll the dice on Redman, who is currently the “hot hand” after last week’s performance. Just keep in mind that Dwyer will certainly steal some carries, limiting the upside of both backs to that of a high-end RB3 (Dwyer) to a mid-range RB2 (Redman) this week.

Ben Roethlisberger: 235 pass yds, 2 TD
Mike Wallace: 80 rec yds, 1 TD
Heath Miller: 55 rec yds, 1 TD
Emmanuel Sanders: 70 rec yds
Isaac Redman: 70 rush yds, 1 TD, 10 rec yds
Jonathan Dwyer: 40 rush yds, 1 TD, 10 rec yds

Prediction: Steelers 30, Chiefs 13 ^ Top