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Inside the Matchup
Week 11

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


CIN @ KC | NYJ @ STL | NO @ OAK | SD @ DEN


 Predictions - YTD
Rk Staffer W L %
1 Anderson 27 11 71.1
2 Caron 24 11 68.6
3 Smith 25 14 64.1
4 Marcoccio 16 15 51.6

Dolphins @ Bills - (Marcoccio)

Passing Game Thoughts: As expected, rookie QB Ryan Tannehill has been inconsistent during his first NFL season. One week he’s putting up the second most yards any rookie QB has thrown for in a single game (431) and another week he’s throwing for 217 yards and 3 interceptions against a terrible defense as he did last week against Tennessee. Tannehill shows good poise and mobility for a QB his size, but has yet to learn how to read NFL defenses thoroughly and is also cursed with slow undersized options in the passing game like Brian Hartline, Davone Bess, Jabar Gaffney and Anthony Fasano. The Dolphins could use an infusion of speed into their passing attack, but that will need to wait until the offseason. Hartline has been the rookie’s main target through the first nine weeks and while he does do a great job getting open and displays sure hands, the former Buckeye is better suited for a complimentary role in an offense.

The Bills are allowing 246.3 passing ypg, while also giving up 18 passing TDs. Offseason addition Mario Williams is finally starting to show some signs of life in the pass rush but has generally failed to live up to expectations. Unlike in past seasons, the team is not causing opposing QBs to turn the ball over. Only safety Jarius Byrd with 3 of the team’s 6 interceptions has shown any of the ball-hawking ability that the Bills had displayed during the past couple of years.

Running Game Thoughts: I offered a surprise last week that Miami has been working second year runner Daniel Thomas into the offense more at the expense of Reggie Bush. Last week after an early fumble Bush was totally cast aside in favor of the second year back. Thomas only had one more carry than Bush on the day, but he also had five receptions while Bush only caught 1 ball. Bush started off the season looking good in the running game but can no longer be counted on by fantasy owners. Thomas has developed into a superior pass blocker, which is why he’s seen a much bigger third down role, despite not being nearly the explosive player that Bush is in open space.

The Bills present an easy matchup against the run making both Miami backs interesting although somewhat risky options this week. The Bills are allowing a league worst 163.7 rushing ypg with 16 rushing TDs on the season. Teams have been able to run at will, a tactic that Miami is sure to employ in front of a national TV audience.

Ryan Tannehill: 225 pass yds 1 TD, 1 Int. / 25 rush yds
Brian Hartline: 65 rec yds, 1 TD
Davone Bess: 45 rec yds
Jabar Gaffney: 35 rec yds
Anthony Fasano: 25 rec yds
Reggie Bush: 55 rush yds / 25 yds receiving
Daniel Thomas: 65 rush yds, 2 TDs / 20 yds receiving

Passing Game Thoughts: Ryan Fitzpatrick was practically given his offseason walking papers last week leading up to the game against New England when GM Buddy Nix stated that the Bills need to start looking at acquiring a franchise quarterback this offseason. The Harvard graduate responded with his best game in quite a while. He threw for 337 yards with 2 TDs (and an interception) and kept his team in the game on the road against New England. Fitzpatrick is a gutsy player and can gain yards with his legs when the pocket collapses on him, but his costly mistakes and weak arm will limit the Bills ability to get to the next level. Donald Jones has been the Bills top receiver over the last three weeks catching 16 balls for 186 and 2 TDs as his short area game is better suited for Fitzpatrick’s limitations than deep threats Stevie Johnson and T.J. Graham.

Fitzpatrick will get a chance to put up back-to-back big games as he’ll face one of the league’s worst passing defenses. Miami is allowing 278 ypg and 12 passing TDs on the season.

Running Game Thoughts: The Bills’ Fred Jackson will miss this game due to a concussion suffered during a two-touchdown game against the Patriots last week. C.J. Spiller exploded onto the scene earlier in the season when he last had the backfield to himself and his owners are likely salivating at the thought of another opportunity. Spiller has shown rare explosion and big play ability. He’s averaging 7.3 ypc and is even more explosive in space after the catch. His HC is promising 20 to 30 carries for Spiller on Thursday Night. Imagine the possibilities. Miami’s run defense has been slipping in recent weeks but is still a solid unit – however a few big runs by Spiller early in the game just may sap the life out of a team coming off a big loss to a poor Titans team.

Ryan Fitzpatrick: 275 pass yds 2 TDs, 1 Int. / 15 rush yds
Steve Johnson: 45 rec yds
Donald Jones: 60 rec yds
T.J. Graham: 25 rec yds
Scott Chandler: 55 rec yds, 1 TD
C.J. Spiller: 115 rush yds, 1 TD / 35 yds receiving, 1 TD

Prediction: Bills 27, Dolphins 24 ^ Top

Cardinals @ Falcons - (Smith)

Passing Game Thoughts: John Skelton leads the Arizona passing attack, and has been serviceable but unspectacular. He’s thrown for at least 260 yards over his last three games, but has just two touchdowns this year with six interceptions. His main target is Larry Fitzgerald, who leads the team with 51 catches, but he his 585 receiving yards are just 45 more than teammate Andre Roberts and Roberts actually leads Fitzgerald in FPPG because he has five touchdowns to Fitzgerald’s four.

The Falcons have been in the middle of the pack in pass defense this year, ranking 19th in the league in that statistic, though just seven teams have allowed fewer touchdowns through the air and only three teams have picked off more passes. They’ve been particularly good against receivers, with only eight teams having allowed fewer FPPG to players at the position, and while they’re also 16th in FPPG allowed to quarterbacks, tight ends have done a number on them, with Atlanta allowing the sixth-most FPPG to players at that position, including Jimmy Graham’s 146-yard, two-touchdown game last week.

Running Game Thoughts: With each of the Cardinals top two backs out due to injury, the rushing duties are being handled mainly by LaRod Stephens-Howling. He has been the very definition of up-and-down, as evidenced by his rushing totals over his last four games: 22 yards, 104 yards, 6 yards and 51 yards. Yet he’s a capable receiver out of the backfield and has scored twice in his last three games, making him a solid flex play this week against an iffy Atlanta run defense.

Anybody who saw Chris Ivory’s touchdown run against the Falcons last week knows that Atlanta has had trouble stopping the run this season. They are 25th in rush defense, 22nd (tied) in rushing scores given up and 30th in YPC allowed. Yet they are 13th in FPPG allowed to running backs because two of the rushing touchdowns they allowed were to quarterbacks, as are 155 of the rushing yards they’ve given up.

John Skelton: 250 pass yds, 1 TD, 2 INT
Larry Fitzgerald: 80 rec yds
Andre Roberts: 55 rec yds, 1 TD
Michael Floyd: 45 rec yds
Robert Housler: 40 rec yds
LaRod Stephens-Howling: 60 rush yds, 1 TD / 20 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: There are few teams who have as potent an aerial attack as the Falcons. Matt Ryan is second in the NFL in passing yards, fourth in touchdown throws and third among quarterbacks in FPPG. He has three weapons which are legitimate fantasy starters in Roddy White (9th among wide receivers in FPPG), Julio Jones (11th among wide receivers in FPPG) and Tony Gonzalez, who had been struggling a bit but returned to prominence last week and is third at tight end in FPPG. That quartet will be challenged this week against a tough Arizona pass defense.

Just one team has given up fewer passing yards per game than the Cardinals, only two have held quarterbacks to a lower completion percentage, and just three teams have more sacks. They’re 14th (tied) in passing scores allowed, but have given up the eighth-fewest FPPG in the league to quarterbacks and the fourth-fewest to tight ends, though wide receivers have had a decent amount of success against Arizona, though some of that is skewed due to Brian Hartline’s 253-yard, one-touchdown game in Week 4, which is clearly an outlier.

Running Game Thoughts: Michael Turner is the Falcons’ lead runner, but has had a tough time producing of late. In his last four games he’s rushed for at least 60 yards only once, and has one score in that span. He’s 24th among running backs in FPPG, and is a non-factor in the passing game, with Jacquizz Rodgers being the back who takes over on passing downs.

Arizona clearly has a very good pass defense, and though they haven’t been quite as good against the run, they’ve held their own when it counts. The Cards rank 24th in rush defense and 16th in YPC allowed, but are sixth (tied) in rushing scores given up. Stopping opponents from scoring on the ground has helped them rank ninth in terms of fewest FPPG allowed to running backs, and though 10 have gained at least 50 yards when facing Arizona, only one has gained more than 85 yards.

Matt Ryan: 280 pass yds, 3 TD, 1 INT
Roddy White: 85 rec yds, 2 TD
Julio Jones: 75 rec yds, 1 TD
Tony Gonzalez: 50 rec yds
Harry Douglas: 25 rec yds
Michael Turner: 70 rush yds
Jacquizz Rodgers: 20 rush yds / 35 rec yds

Prediction: Falcons 27, Cardinals 17

Buccaneers @ Panthers - (Smith)

Passing Game Thoughts: Josh Freeman did poor enough last season that fantasy owners clearly lost confidence in him, but he’s changed that this year. Though he’s only 14th in passing yards, Freeman is fifth (tied) in touchdown throws, and has been on fire of late. Over his last five games he’s thrown 13 touchdowns with just a single interception, and is now 12th in FPPG at his position. Freeman’s resurgence is in no small part due to his dynamic wide receiving duo of Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams. Jackson is eighth in the league in receiving yards and 10th (tied) in touchdown catches and only four wideouts are averaging more FPPG than he is. Williams hasn’t been quite on that level, but is still among the league’s top-25 receivers in both yards and FPPG.

The Panthers have allowed the 10th-fewest FPPG to quarterbacks this season and the sixth-fewest FPPG to wide receivers, so it should come as no surprise that they’re seventh in passing touchdowns given up despite being 16th in pass defense. Only once this year has a quarterback thrown for more than one touchdown against the Panthers, and since Week 4 only Peyton Manning has thrown for at least 230 yards and only Demaryius Thomas has compiled 100 receiving yards against them, with both events taking place last week.

Running Game Thoughts: Rookie Doug Martin’s extraordinary game two weeks ago put him squarely on the national radar, and he’s fourth (tied) in rushing yards and second (tied) in rushing scores for the year. Only Arian Foster is averaging more FPPG than Martin, who has had no less than 119 combined rushing and receiving yards in each of his last five contests. He’s a great play this week against a mediocre Carolina run defense.

Average is an appropriate word when it comes to the Panthers’ run defense. They are 16th in rushing yards per game allowed and 17th (tied) in rushing scores given up. Yet they have allowed the ninth-most FPPG to running backs because only one team has let backs accumulate more receiving yards than Carolina, who has allowed six backs to gain at least 30 yards in receptions.

Josh Freeman: 265 pass yds, 2 TD
Vincent Jackson: 90 rec yds, 1 TD
Mike Williams: 80 rec yds, 1 TD
Tiquan Underwood: 35 rec yds
Dallas Clark: 15 rec yds
Doug Martin: 80 rush yds, 1 TD / 35 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: Cam Newton has struggled mightily throwing the ball in his second year in the NFL. He is 17th in passing yards, 27th (tied) in passing scores, and Brandon Weeden and Blaine Gabbert are among the quarterbacks with more touchdown throws than Newton. Yet he can still run the ball effectively, and for that reason is 11th in FPPG. When he does throw, Steve Smith or Greg Olsen are usually the ones getting the ball. Smith has only one touchdown this season, which is the main reason he’s 39th (tied) in FPPG, but Olsen has a trio of scores, including two last week, and he’s somewhat quietly been a decent play for fantasy owners, ranking seventh in FPPG at tight end. Each can be started by fantasy owners with confidence this week against a bad Tampa pass defense.

The Buccaneers continue to struggle against the pass, and are allowing 14 more yards per game through the air than any other team. They’re also 20th (tied) in touchdown throws given up, 25th in opponents’ completion percentage allowed and 26th (tied) in sacks. Tampa’s poor efforts in this area show up in fantasy numbers as well, with the Bucs having allowed the third-most (tied) FPPG to quarterbacks, the third-most to wideouts and 11th-most to tight ends. And in Tampa’s last four games, a trio of quarterbacks has thrown for at least 330 yards and three touchdowns against them.

Running Game Thoughts: The Carolina running game is a fantasy owner’s nightmare, with three players, including Newton, having run for at least 250 yards, but none for more than 355. Jonathan Stewart has been getting the most carries recently, but has yet to score a touchdown this season, while DeAngelo Williams has three. We wouldn’t recommend either of them, or Mike Tolbert against the Buccaneers this week.

Tampa is the NFL’s top-ranked run defense and also sport the league’s lowest YPC allowed, but are 14th (tied) in rushing scores given up. They’ve also let backs have success out of the backfield as receivers, so they’re not among the 10 best teams in terms of stopping backs from accumulating fantasy points, and are instead allowing the 11th-fewest FPPG to players at the position.

Cam Newton: 230 pass yds, 1 TD, 1 INT / 25 rush yds, 1 TD
Steve Smith: 80 rec yds, 1 TD
Greg Olsen: 55 rec yds
Brandon LaFell: 45 rec yds
Jonathan Stewart: 30 rush yds / 10 rec yds
DeAngelo Williams: 30 rush yds / 15 rec yds
Mike Tolbert: 15 rush yds / 15 rec yds

Prediction: Buccaneers 24, Panthers 17

Jaguars @ Texans - (Smith)

Passing Game Thoughts: Blaine Gabbert has shown improvement in his second season as the Jaguars starting quarterback, but he’s 30th in passing yards, 25th (tied) in passing scores, and 34th in FPPG. He’s nowhere near a fantasy option, and neither are his receivers with the exception of Cecil Shorts. The second-year wideout has at least 100 yards in two of his last three games, and 55 or more yards in each of his last four. He’s moved into the top-30 in FPPG, but could have a tough go of it this week against a strong Houston pass defense.

With the exception of one game, the Texans have been stifling to opposing passing attacks. They are third in the league in pass defense, second in opponents’ completion percentage allowed, fourth (tied) in interceptions, and though they’re 14th (tied) in touchdown passes given up, nearly half of those came when Aaron Rodgers threw six touchdowns against them in Week 6. Since then, Houston has allowed only one touchdown pass by a quarterback, and for the season they are allowing the seventh-fewest FPPG to both quarterbacks and wide receivers, and have been better than average against tight ends.

Running Game Thoughts: Maurice Jones-Drew remains out of action due to injury, and his absence will lead to another game with Rashad Jennings as the lead back, and another game in which fantasy owners can ignore the Jaguars running backs. Jennings has yet to run for 60 yards or average at least four yards per carry since taking over for MJD, and he won’t hit either of those marks this week against Houston.

No team has allowed fewer FPPG to running backs than the Texans, because they are the only squad in professional football that has yet to give up a rushing touchdown. Every other team has allowed at least a pair of scores on the ground, and just two squads are allowing fewer rushing yards per game than Houston, who haven’t allowed a running back to gain more than 65 yards since Week 4.

Blaine Gabbert: 220 pass yds, 2 TD, 3 INT
Cecil Shorts: 65 rec yds, TD
Laurent Robinson: 50 rec yds, TD
Justin Blackmon: 35 rec yds
Micheal Spurlock: 25 rec yds
Marcedes Lewis: 20 rec yds
Rashad Jennings: 40 rush yds / 15 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: Matt Schaub is a solid quarterback who does more than manage the game, but he’s not a quality fantasy option. He’s 21st in passing yards, 13th (tied) in touchdown throws but 26th in FPPG. Houston’s offense is based on running the ball, and even Andre Johnson is failing to deliver, ranking just 39th in FPPG at receiver. The Texans pass-catcher that fantasy owners have been able to count on the most is Owen Daniels, who missed last week’s game against Chicago, but should be good to go this week. He’s fourth in FPPG at tight end, and has snared a touchdown pass in five of his last six contests.

The Jaguars are 15th in FPPG given up to quarterbacks despite allowing the fourth-fewest touchdown passes in the NFL. The reason for this is two-fold: number one, they’re 23rd in pass defense, and number two, Jacksonville is tied for third-fewest interceptions in the league, meaning points aren’t being taken away from opposing quarterbacks. The Jags have also allowed the 15th-most FPPG to wideouts, but only one team has given up fewer FPPG to tight ends.

Running Game Thoughts: Arian Foster is the top fantasy running back by any measure, as he’s third in the league in rushing yards, but leads in rushing scores and FPPG at his position. He has at least one rushing or receiving touchdown in every game this season, a streak that we have no doubt will continue this week against a very bad Jaguars rush defense.

Jacksonville is 29th in the NFL against the rush, and 31st in touchdown runs allowed. These numbers mean the Jags have allowed bushels of fantasy points, and are giving up more FPPG to running backs than all but three other teams. Somehow, a total of 14 different backs have picked up at least 40 rushing yards against Jacksonville in only nine games.

Matt Schaub: 250 pass yds, 2 TD
Andre Johnson: 80 rec yds, 1 TD
Owen Daniels: 65 rec yds
Kevin Walter: 55 rec yds, 1 TD
Arian Foster: 120 rush yds, 2 TD / 25 rec yds
Ben Tate: 30 rush yds / 15 rec yds

Prediction: Texans 34, Jaguars 20

Bengals @ Chiefs - (Caron)

Passing Game Thoughts: The breakout season for Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton continued last week as the second-year signal-caller threw a career-high four touchdown passes in a surprisingly dominant win over the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants. Dalton, who threw for just 199 yards in the win, also avoided committing a turnover for the first time all season while distributing the ball to a number of receivers including A.J. Green who has now made at least one touchdown reception in eight straight games. Green is by far the top fantasy receiver in 2012 and his success has opened up tight end Jermaine Gresham who has turned up his production in recent weeks. Andrew Hawkins has been the most consistent other wide receiver on the roster, but is on the fringes of fantasy consideration.

This week could be another big one for Dalton, Green and the Bengals passing game. They face a Chiefs defense which has been mediocre against the pass all year. While they did a surprisingly good job of shutting down Ben Roethlisberger last week, Kansas City’s defense had allowed multiple passing touchdowns in every game but one prior to Week 10. With Dalton’s hot streak and Green continuing to emerge as perhaps the best red zone threat in the league, the Chiefs are going to be hard-pressed to shut down this aerial attack. Look for a nice game from Dalton and Green, but it remains difficult to predict who else in this offense will show up.

Running Game Thoughts: With the passing game regularly stealing the show, the struggles have continued for Bengals running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis who has now failed to reach double-digit fantasy points in six of his nine games this season. Green-Ellis, one of the most highly-touted players to join a new team this past offseason, has failed to live up to even conservative expectations that he would be an every week RB2 in fantasy. He currently sits as the 24th-ranked fantasy running back in standard scoring leagues and has scored just three touchdowns on the year. In PPR leagues, his value is even worse as his 12 receptions put him on pace for less than 20 this season.

Given the disappointment, not all hope is lost for this former Patriot. He’ll have an opportunity to go up against one of the league’s worst run defenses in Week 11. Kansas City has allowed opposing running backs 13 or more fantasy points (standard scoring) in eight of their ten games this season. While they’ve only allowed four touchdowns on the ground, much of the damage has come between the endzones as they’ve already allowed 100 or more yards on the ground seven times in 2012. If Green-Ellis can crack the century mark, it will be the first time he has done so all season and could be the sign of things to come for the rest of the year.

Andy Dalton: 225 pass yds, 3 TD, 1 INT
A.J. Green: 90 rec yds, 1 TD
Andrew Hawkins: 30 rec yds, 1 TD
Jermaine Gresham: 40 rec yds
BenJarvus Green-Ellis: 85 rush yds, 1 TD

Passing Game Thoughts: The disaster that has been the Kansas City Chiefs passing game in 2012 continued in Week 10 as Matt Cassel threw for just 154 yards in a loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Even though the Chiefs stayed in the game until the very end and even had a chance to win it in overtime, it was a costly interception from Cassel that ultimately put the final nail in the coffin. Cassel has thrown just one touchdown pass in his past four games while throwing five interceptions in that span. He has now thrown an interception in every game he has played in this season and unless something dramatic changes, it appears that the Chiefs will be searching for a new quarterback in 2013.

With Cassel’s poor play has come tough days for fantasy owners of Dwayne Bowe, who have now seen their receiver finish with under seven fantasy points (standard scoring) in five straight games. Bowe and the Chiefs don’t have a better matchup this week either, as they go up against the Cincinnati Bengals defense that is fresh off shutting down Eli Manning a week ago. Cincinnati’s defense has been hit-or-miss against the pass all year, but have only allowed one quarterback (Peyton Manning) to throw for more than two touchdowns. Given the Chiefs’ horrendous offensive production as of late, it’s going to be tough to assume that Cassel will join Peyton in that conversation.

Running Game Thoughts: Often times when an offense has trouble passing the ball, they also have trouble running it. That hasn’t been the case though with the Chiefs who have seen running back Jamaal Charles have some monster games throughout the year. After rushing the ball for just a combined 29 attempts in his previous three games, Charles was finally given the chance to take over a game in Week 10 when he took the ball 23 times for 100 yards and a touchdown. Though his yards-per-carry average wasn’t anything to write home about, the 100 yards was a sign that if they give him a chance, Charles will continue to produce. Running back Shaun Draughn failed to touch the ball for the first time this season in the loss to the Steelers while a now healthy Peyton Hillis registered 11 touches of his own, re-cementing himself as the complementary back to Charles.

Charles, Hillis and the Chiefs should have a chance to do some damage on the ground this week against the Bengals and their 21st-ranked fantasy defense against opposing running backs. The Bengals have allowed at least 10 fantasy points to opposing running backs in eight of their nine games this season and have allowed at least one rushing touchdown in every game but two. While they’ve done a fairly good job of slowing down the yardage totals, the fantasy score is what we care about. The only concern is whether the passing game will be good enough to get Charles and Hillis into scoring position for them to get into the endzone.

Matt Cassel: 160 pass yds, 0 TD, 1 INT
Dwayne Bowe: 55 rec yds
Dexter McCluster: 25 rec yds
Tony Moeaki: 30 rec yds
Jamaal Charles: 80 rush yds, 1 TD, 15 rec yds
Peyton Hillis: 20 rush yds, 20 rec yds

Prediction: Bengals 31, Chiefs 16

Jets @ Rams - (Caron)

Passing Game Thoughts: It’s been a tough season for fans of the New York Jets who expected their team to finally get to that next level of offensive production. The explosive plays simply haven’t been there and it appears as if Sanchez and the passing game have taken multiple steps backwards. Sanchez may have hit a new low this past week as he threw for just 124 yards and no touchdowns in an embarrassing road loss to the Seahawks. The Jets have now scored 10 or less offensive points in four of their nine games. The lone bright spot in the passing game has been wide receiver Jeremy Kerley who has caught five or more passes in four of his past five games, and a touchdown in two others. Tight end Dustin Keller has also been decently productive since his return to the lineup as he has averaged nearly 70 yards per game since coming back.

It’s not going to be much easier in Week 11 as the Jets go up against the St. Louis Rams defense that has held opposing quarterbacks to one or zero touchdown passes in six of their nine games this season. The only quarterbacks who have reached three touchdown passes against them on the year are Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady. Needless to say, those expecting a bounce-back week from Mark Sanchez are probably going to be waiting until at least Week 12. In fact, given Sanchez’s complete incompetence in recent weeks, it wouldn’t be shocking to see Tim Tebow get a few extra snaps this week.

Running Game Thoughts: One player who has been surprisingly productive in recent weeks is New York Jets running back Shonn Greene. Greene, who had been written off after four straight games under five fantasy points, emerged in Week 6 when he ran all over the Colts to the tune of 161 yards and three touchdowns. While he hasn’t kept that production up, Greene has looked significantly better in recent weeks than he did to start the year. Without another back on the team getting many touches, Greene’s chances of remaining at least a serviceable RB2 are good, so long as he continues to touch the ball 15+ times per game.

Greene will be going up against the Rams defense at the right time as they have allowed back-to-back 100+ yard games on the ground to the Patriots and 49ers, including three touchdowns to the position over those two games. St. Louis had previously been fairly stingy against the run, but these past two games have to give the Jets some sort of hope of moving the ball again. If the Jets hope to win this game, they’re going to need to control the clock and what better way to do that than get the ball in Greene’s hands early and often? Don’t be surprised to see New York run the ball 30+ times this week.

Mark Sanchez: 160 pass yds, 1 TD, 2 INT
Jeremy Kerley: 40 rec yds
Stephen Hill: 30 rec yds
Dustin Keller: 40 rec yds, 1 TD
Shonn Greene: 80 rush yds, 1 TD, 15 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: St. Louis Rams quarterback Sam Bradford is riding high, coming off of one of the best games of his young career against one of the elite defenses in the league. Bradford threw for 275 yards and two scores, while most importantly avoiding turning the ball over. Unfortunately for him, the game ended in a not-so-exciting, 24-24 tie, but the numbers would have been even better if his long pass to Danny Amendola hadn’t have been called back due to an uncovered end penalty. Bradford remains a QB2 for fantasy purposes, but if he can continue to become acquainted with Chris Givens (who sat out Week 10 for disciplinary reasons) and Brandon Gibson as he has with Danny Amendola, there could be some bright days ahead for this passing game.

If there’s one thing that the Jets do well this season, it’s shut down the opposing team’s No. 1 receiver. They have done so practically across the board all season, even after the injury to Darrelle Revis, and that could spell trouble for Danny Amendola. Thankfully, there is some hope as tight ends and slot receivers have had some success going over the middle against this defense. Don’t expect another 11-catch game from Amendola, but at this point, it’s going to be tough for any team to keep him without at least a handful of snags over the course of an entire game.

Running Game Thoughts: There’s the Steven Jackson we all know and love! He had been missing for so long that many of us almost forgot that he even existed, but Jackson returned in impressive fashion in Week 10, rushing for a touchdown and 101 yards on 29 carries while adding 26 yards as a receiver - all that against perhaps the best run defense in the league, the 49ers. Backup running back Daryl Richardson was impressive in a complementary role as well as, rushing for 58 yards on just seven carries. For now, it appears that Jackson has reclaimed his role as at least a 60/40 leader in touches for this offense, but keep an eye on Richardson as his 5.7 yards per carry is among the best in the league.

Jackson and Richardson could be in for another nice day in Week 11 as they go up against a New York Jets defense that has allowed over 100 yards rushing in seven of their first nine games. The production on the ground hasn’t stopped at just yardage either, as they’ve allowed nine touchdowns to opposing running backs, leading to every team except one scoring 13 or more fantasy points from their running back position. If the Rams do get up early in this one, look for them to grind the ball plenty with their backs, which could mean solid fantasy days for both players.

Sam Bradford: 230 pass yds, 1 TD, 1 INT
Danny Amendola: 70 rec yds
Brandon Gibson: 50 rec yds, 1 TD
Chris Givens: 50 rec yds
Lance Kendricks: 30 rec yds
Steven Jackson: 60 rush yds, 1 TD, 10 rec yds
Daryl Richardson: 50 rush yds

Prediction: Rams 23, Jets 17

Saints @ Raiders - (Caron)

Passing Game Thoughts: Another week, another monster game for Saints quarterback Drew Brees. Having scored multiple touchdowns in every game this season, Brees is starting to run away as the top-scoring fantasy quarterback in 2012 and subsequently the top-scoring player in the entire league. Brees’ season totals currently put him on pace for 44 passing touchdowns while eclipsing the elusive 5,000 yard mark for the third time in his career. With nine interceptions, the only downside to his game this season has been his turnovers, but that’s something fantasy owners can certainly deal with if it comes along with a series of touchdowns and huge yardage numbers.

Brees should be in line for another huge game in Week 11 as he and the Saints matchup against one of the league’s least impressive secondaries, the Oakland Raiders. The Raiders are coming off a humiliating loss to the Joe Flacco-led Ravens where they allowed 341 yards and three touchdowns through the air. With the Saints passing game making it look so effortless, we could be looking at more big games from Brees as well as Jimmy Graham and Marques Colston who have combined for 10 touchdowns over their past five games and don’t appear to be slowing down anytime soon.

Running Game Thoughts: When running back Darren Sproles went down with an injury, many believed it would be Pierre Thomas or Mark Ingram - or at least a combination of the two - that would benefit from additional playing time. As it turns out, it’s been Chris Ivory whose fantasy value has seen the biggest improvement. Ivory has scored in back-to-back weeks and his 120 rushing yards are best on the team during that time. With Sproles now rumored to be returning, the backfield once again becomes a big question mark as only Sproles can really be relied on as a week-to-week contributor. Even then, his value is largely tied to his ability as a receiver, so unless you’re in a PPR league, it’s hard to confidently place any of the Saints running backs, even Sproles, in your lineup.

Given the Raiders’ problems against opposing running backs, though, this could be a week when more than one of the Saints RBS gets on the fantasy board in a meaningful way. Oakland has allowed two teams to rush for over 240 yards against them already this year and they’ve allowed 10 rushing touchdowns as well, which puts them tied for 31st in the league in that category. If Sproles does return, this would be a particularly good matchup for him as the Raiders have allowed 67 receptions to opposing running backs already this season, tying them for the absolute worst in the league.

Drew Brees: 305 pass yds, 3 TD, 1 INT
Marques Colston: 80 rec yds, 1 TD
Lance Moore: 70 rec yds, 1 TD
Jimmy Graham: 60 rec yds, 1 TD
Darren Sproles: 10 rush yds, 70 rec yds, 1 TD
Pierre Thomas: 30 rush yds, 1 TD, 15 rec yds
Mark Ingram: 40 rush yds
Chris Ivory: 25 rush yds, 1 TD

Passing Game Thoughts: Carson Palmer exploded for a huge fantasy day in the Raiders first game without running back Darren McFadden throwing for 368 yards and two scores in the 20-55 loss to the Ravens. The two touchdowns now makes a total of eight in Palmer’s past three games, which has been a nice surprise for fantasy owners as he has now shot up to being the No. 9-scoring fantasy quarterback in standard scoring leagues. Receivers Denarius Moore and Darrius Heyward-Bey have both been impressive during Palmer’s hot streak while tight end Brandon Myers and running back Marcel Reece add some much-needed short-yardage ability.

With the league’s worst defense on the field against them, there’s really no reason to believe that the Raiders’ passing game won’t continue to light up the fantasy scoreboard this week. The Saints have been among the worst pass defenses in NFL history this season, having allowed at least 248 passing yards against them in every game this season. They are on pace to allow an unbelievable 5159 yards and 34 touchdowns to opposing quarterbacks. With a defense this bad, just about any player becomes a serious fantasy option against them, especially when those players are coming off of big games themselves.

Running Game Thoughts: With running back Darren McFadden still nursing a knee injury, it looks as if Marcel Reece could be the primary back again this week. Reece looked decent as a runner in Week 10 as he rushed for 48 yards on 13 carries, but did most of his damage in the passing game as he caught seven passes for 56 yards, bringing his season total to an impressive 328 yards receiving despite limited playing time. Reece is a PPR stud and could have a huge week against one of the league’s worst defenses.

New Orleans and their 31st-ranked fantasy defense against opposing running backs looks like they’re going to avoid having to stop Darren McFadden, but Reece might still be able to take advantage. New Orleans had allowed opposing running backs to achieve double-digit fantasy points in every game this season prior to their success in Week 10 against the Falcons, including two games where they allowed over 220 yards on the ground. With Reece likely playing the role as a receiver out of the backfield, Jeremy Stewart could be a sleeper this week for those in very deep leagues. Stewart surprised even the experts when he got more carries than Taiwan Jones in Week 10 so a double-digit touch day might not be out of the question if the Raiders can stay in this game.

Carson Palmer: 320 pass yds, 3 TD, 2 INT
Denarius Moore: 90 rec yds, 1 TD
Darrius Heyward-Bey: 70 rec yds, 1 TD
Brandon Myers: 60 rec yds
Marcel Reece: 45 rush yds, 70 rec yds, 1 TD
Jeremy Stewart: 40 rush yds

Prediction: Saints 41, Raiders 30

Chargers @ Broncos - (Caron)

Passing Game Thoughts: Although his turnover problems continued in a Week 10 loss, Philip Rivers’ 29-point fantasy day against the Buccaneers was the best of his season. Rivers has now thrown for multiple touchdowns in five of his past six games and wide receiver Malcom Floyd appears to finally be hitting his stride, having caught four or more passes in five straight games, including a touchdown each of the past two weeks. Perhaps most importantly, Antonio Gates has now caught a total of four touchdowns in his past four games, including two against the Broncos when he played them in Week 6.

Rivers wasn’t quite so lucky as Gates when he played the Broncos back in Week 6 as he threw a season-high four interceptions while fumbling twice, but his overall streak of touchdown passes leaves the hope that he could still have a nice fantasy day in Week 11. Denver has allowed three straight solid fantasy games to opposing quarterbacks and while they’ve done a good job of shutting down opposing receivers, their defense ranks dead last in fantasy points allowed to opposing tight ends, having just allowed the Panthers’ tight ends to catch 10 passes for 110 yards and two touchdowns against them in Week 10.

Running Game Thoughts: The injuries continue to add up for running back Ryan Mathews who has seemingly spent almost his entire NFL career on the injury list with some sort of ailment. Matthews is currently nursing what is being described as a “stiff neck” which he suffered in the team’s Week 10 loss to the Buccaneers. It hasn’t just been the injuries that have bothered fantasy owners, though. It has been his general lack of production. Though he has averaged over 22 touches per game over his past four contests, Mathews has failed to reach double-digit fantasy points in standard-scoring leagues during that span. His abysmal season has been highlighted by his inability to score touchdowns, as he has just one on the year.

Mathews hasn’t been particularly productive in most games this year, but he did have one of his better fantasy totals against the Broncos in Week 6 when he had 93 total yards on 26 touches. The yards-per-carry don’t exactly jump off the page, but the fact that the Chargers continue to give him the ball so often is keeping him from being a complete fantasy flop. With Ronnie Brown continuing to take away touches in the passing game, it’s a bit worrisome that Mathews will be going up against the Broncos defense that hasn’t allowed a team to rush for over 100 yards against them since Week 5.

Philip Rivers: 260 pass yds, 2 TD, 2 INT
Malcom Floyd: 60 rec yds, 1 TD
Danario Alexander: 70 rec yds
Antonio Gates: 70 rec yds, 1 TD
Ryan Mathews: 75 rush yds, 1 TD, 10 rec yds
Ronnie Brown: 10 rush yds, 30 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: Although his string of five straight games of throwing three touchdown passes was broken last week against the Panthers, Peyton Manning still managed to have a pretty good day as he threw for 301 yards and a touchdown in a blowout win over the Panthers. Manning’s stats were particularly impressive when you consider that his team was up 24-7 before the fourth quarter even started. Wide receiver Demaryius Thomas continued his huge season, catching nine passes for 135 yards while Eric Decker struggled, catching only two passes for 15 yards.

A blowout win often holds down a team’s passing numbers, so going up against a team that can score quite a few points themselves, like the Chargers, should be good for the Broncos passing game in terms of fantasy production. Manning threw for 309 yards and three touchdowns in the Week 6 win in San Diego while both Thomas and Decker got into the endzone. It is worth noting, however, that Peyton Manning has struggled throughout his career against the Chargers. His 77.6 career QB rating against them is his second-worst against any team in the league. Still, Manning is red hot and should be started in all fantasy lineups until otherwise noted.

Running Game Thoughts: 56 rushing yards for Willis McGahee was a bit disappointing when you consider that his team was up three scores in the fourth quarter. What made things worse was that rookie running back Ronnie Hillman “stole” a touchdown late in the game that would have otherwise saved a lackluster fantasy day for McGahee owners. The Broncos starting running back has now rushed for under 70 yards in four of his past five games, which can be largely attributed to the success Manning has had passing the ball.

Even given the lack of many big games in recent weeks, Willis McGahee shouldn’t necessarily be out of fantasy lineups in Week 11. He did have 98 yards of total offense the first time these two teams met in 2012, so there’s still a very realistic possibility that he has a nice fantasy day this week, particularly if he is on the field in goal line situations. The Chargers have allowed only four rushing touchdowns on the year though, so McGahee’s upside may be limited in this matchup.

Peyton Manning: 300 pass yds, 3 TD
Demaryius Thomas: 90 rec yds, 1 TD
Eric Decker: 60 rec yds, 2 TD
Brandon Stokley: 40 rec yds
Joel Dreessen: 30 rec yds
Jacob Tamme: 20 rec yds
Willis McGahee: 70 rush yds, 1 TD, 20 rec yds

Prediction: Broncos 34, Chargers 24

Bears @ 49ers - (Caron)

Passing Game Thoughts: Murky on-field conditions led to a very forgettable game on Sunday night last week as the Bears lost 13-6 to the Texans. While the game itself wasn’t particularly notable, Chicago fans will tell you that they were paying very close attention when quarterback Jay Cutler went down with a concussion during the first half of the game. Cutler never returned to the contest and is now looking doubtful to play in the team’s Week 11 road game against the 49ers. If Cutler cannot play, it will be Jason Campbell who takes the reigns, having thrown for 94 yards during the second half of the loss to Houston. Campbell last played in 2011 when he threw six touchdowns in six games for the Raiders but averaged less than 200 yards per contest.

If Campbell is behind center, the 49ers defense will be chomping at the bit. After allowing one of their worst games of the year to Sam Bradford a week ago, San Francisco will look to get back on track by shutting down the Bears’ passing game. Fantasy owners should note that Campbell is 0-2 as a starter against the 49ers in his career and threw for just 239 yards and one touchdown in those two games. He was, however, able to get the ball effectively to Brandon Marshall in Week 10, who achieved his fifth 100+ yard receiving day of the season in spite of the bad weather.

Running Game Thoughts: With Cutler likely out, Matt Forte could be in for his biggest workload of the 2012 season. Let’s just hope that he has a little more success with it against the 49ers than he did against the Texans. Forte had an abysmal game in Week 10, rushing for just 39 yards on 16 carries while somehow finishing with -3 yards in the passing game. Michael Bush took just three carries a week ago after a costly fumble caused the coaching staff to lose faith in him. Bush has just one game of double-digit touches since Week 4 and his former value as a goal line back might be a thing of the past as he hasn’t scored since Week 3.

Week 11 brings a daunting matchup for Forte and the Bears running game as they will attempt to break through the 49ers and their No. 1-ranked fantasy defense against opposing running backs. The 49ers have only allowed a total of three rushing touchdowns in the past three seasons combined and with Jason Campbell behind center, they will likely be stacking the box to control the running game. On the bright side for Forte owners, the 49ers have been surprisingly bad at stopping opposing running games at home as of late. In their past three home games, the 49ers have allowed a total of 436 yards and two touchdowns on the ground.

Jason Campbell: 190 pass yds, 1 TD, 2 INT
Brandon Marshall: 90 rec yds, 1 TD
Earl Bennett: 25 rec yds
Matt Forte: 65 rush yds, 30 rec yds
Michael Bush: 20 rush yds, 10 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: Like Cutler, Alex Smith became one of a number of quarterbacks who were knocked out of their Week 10 game with some sort of injury. For Smith, a concussion led to backup QB Colin Kaepernick taking over in the second quarter of the game. According to reports, Smith suffered the injury on a QB sneak. He would later throw a touchdown pass to Michael Crabtree despite being handicapped by “blurred vision” due to the concussion. It was at this point that he was removed from the game. Kaepernick was serviceable in relief, throwing for 117 yards and rushing for 66 more including a touchdown, but the offense definitely seemed to sputter without their usual QB behind center. At this point, it is believed that Smith will be ready to suit up to play in Week 11, but fantasy owners need to keep their eyes on the injury reports up until game time to be sure of who is going to be in the lineup.

Regardless of who is playing, this will likely be the 49ers’ toughest matchup of the season as they go up against the Chicago Bears and their No. 1-ranked fantasy defense against opposing quarterbacks. The Bears have been lights out all season against the pass, having allowed only one quarterback to throw for multiple scores against them. They’ve also held opposing QB’s to 200 or fewer yards passing in four of their nine games this season. But most importantly, as we’ve seen all year, they’ve been an absolute nightmare for opposing QB’s when it comes to intercepting passes. Their 19 interceptions are by far the best in the league and they’ve intercepted at least one pass in every game this season.

Running Game Thoughts: Frank Gore’s impressive season continued in Week 10 when the 49ers tailback had 115 total yards and a touchdown in a loss against a tough St. Louis defense. Gore, who has gone over 100 total yards in five of his nine games this season, is a top-10 fantasy running back in standard scoring leagues and has been a surprising source of consistency throughout the year on a team that has not historically been an offensive powerhouse in recent seasons. Though Kendall Hunter has seen his production drop off a bit in recent weeks, he remains a valuable backup who touches the ball a handful of times each week and could be one of the premier handcuffs in the league.

This week Gore has another tough matchup against the Bears. Chicago ranks third-best in the league at shutting down opposing running backs and they have allowed just two rushing touchdowns on the year. Things haven’t been quite so dominant in the past three weeks. During that span, they’ve allowed over 130 total yards in each game to opposing running backs while allowing two scores to the position. Still, the matchup is a tough one for Gore, but not necessarily one he can’t overcome. The last time he went up against a perceived-to-be “elite” run defense, he ran all over the Seahawks to the tune of 182 total yards. With Alex Smith still possibly feeling the effects of the concussion the 49ers will likely implement a conservative gameplan, which should mean plenty of touches for No. 21.

Alex Smith: 150 pass yds, 1 TD, 2 INT
Michael Crabtree: 50 rec yds, 1 TD
Mario Manningham: 30 rec yds
Randy Moss: 25 rec yds
Vernon Davis: 40 rec yds
Frank Gore: 80 rush yds, 1 TD
Kendall Hunter: 25 rush yds

Prediction: 49ers 17, Bears 13

Packers @ Lions - (Anderson)

Passing Game Thoughts: Coming off their bye week, the Packers should be well-rested, a little healthier, and eager to get a win against a division rival. To date, the Packers are 12th in the league in passing yards per game (249), and Aaron Rodgers has a ridiculously good 25:5 touchdown to interception ratio and is just 0.6 points behind Peyton Manning for the league lead in quarterback rating. While wide receiver Greg Jennings will still be out with a groin injury, Jordy Nelson should be much healthier this week and should contribute much closer to his normal standards. While the Packers receiving corps has had different guys step up seemingly every game, they truly are one of the very few teams that keep no less than five guys fantasy-relevant (and normally startable)—and that number doesn’t even include Jennings. With the week off to rest and prepare for this matchup, the Packers should come out firing and remain one of the more pass-heavy attacks in the league, as they have attempted nearly 100 more passes than runs so far this season.

Their opponent this week, the Lions, has a defense that is very inconsistent and unpredictable. On one hand, they have let up the eighth-fewest passing yards thus far and rate fairly well against opposing fantasy QBs (12th toughest in NFL) and fantasy WRs (13th toughest). On the other hand, they are near the bottom (28th) in opposing quarterback completion percentage (66), and they just got done allowing one of the worst passing teams (the Vikings) to throw for 221 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions. With a banged-up secondary and facing an elite team like the Packers, I expect the worst from the Lions pass defense this week, even in a home game. As always, Rodgers is a clear fantasy starter and an easy top 5 option at QB this week. As for the receivers, it’s tough to predict which one—or ones—will be hot, since they all have been top WR1s at times and virtually non-existent at others Because of this, I would label Cobb, Nelson, and then Jones all mid-range WR2s and rank them in that order as well. They all are very startable and all have nice upside this week. As for Jermichael Finley, he has really struggled and is certainly outside the top 10 TE options this week—and moving forward—until he proves he is a bigger part of this offense.

Running Game Thoughts: Two weeks ago, against one of the better defenses in the league (Arizona), the Packers actually had one of their best rushing days of the season, racking up 176 yards on the ground. Of course, a lot of those yards came from Aaron Rodgers (33 yards) and receiver Randall Cobb (29 yards) in garbage time, as the Arizona offense could not keep pace. Perhaps the most important thing to take from that game, from a fantasy perspective, is a probable shift from running back Alex Green carrying the load to more of a committee approach that may even favor James Starks. With the 17-to-11 carry split in Starks’ favor (vs. Arizona), and news this week that the Packers want to get him more involved, it appears Starks is the preferred fantasy option in the Packers backfield, at least for now. Of course, with a pass-heavy attack and a league-worst two rushing touchdowns from their running backs, neither are exactly attractive options most weeks. With Detroit being the sixth toughest defense for fantasy RBs to score on, having allowed just three touchdowns on the season, the situation is no good for whoever lines up in the Packers backfield. As a low-end flex play or RB3, you could probably do worse than starting Starks this week. But until the Packers show they will really lean on him, it’s best to leave him (and Green) on your bench.

Aaron Rodgers: 305 pass yds, 2 TDs, 1 INT, 15 rush yds
Jordy Nelson: 70 rec yds, 1 TD
Randall Cobb: 85 rec yds, 1 TD, 15 rush yds
James Jones: 55 rec yds
Jermichael Finley: 30 rec yds
Alex Green: 30 rush yds, 15 rec yds
James Starks: 45 rush yds, 10 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: Although they lost the game, Matthew Stafford and the Lions passing attack put up one of their best statistical performances of the year last week, Stafford threw for 329 yards and three touchdowns (with one pick), and Calvin Johnson caught an amazing 12 balls for 207 yards and a touchdown. The Lions now lead the league in passing yardage per game (307) and are finally putting some points up to go along with the yards, after an early season scoring drought. On the season, Johnson still has only two touchdowns, but he’s has been fairly successful and consistent yardage-wise against this Packers in the past, catching 11 balls for 244 yards and a touchdown against them in last year’s Week 17 finale. The rest of the Lions receivers are hit or miss this season, as no one else has really put up great back-to-back games.

The Packers are a bit more generous than the average team to opposing fantasy QBs and WRs, although they certainly have some playmakers that can wreak havoc on opposing studs (Brandon Marshall, Week 2: 2 rec, 24 yds). Speaking of playmakers, linebacker Clay Matthews is out this week with a hamstring injury, and his absence could mean a lot less pressure from a defense that is currently tied for second with 28 sacks (Matthews has nine alone). The Lions should be able to move the ball and rack up some yardage, as Green Bay ranks 20th in passing yards allowed per game (244). While I would worry a bit about turnovers and inefficiency from the Lions passing game (Packers rank ninth in takeaways and sixth in opposing quarterback completion percentage), the fact is, the Lions will throw the ball all day long and the end stats, win or lose, will look pretty good. While Stafford has been a bit up-and-down thus far, I expect him to be on point in this home game and therefore a sure-fire top 10 option at QB. Johnson has certainly not lived up to some people’s expectations this year, but truth be told, he’s still an elite option at WR1, regardless of the lack of touchdowns. As for the other Detroit receivers, stay away unless you’re in a PPR league, where TE Pettigrew makes a decent option. If you are in a pinch, Titus Young could be a low-end WR3 because he is getting the targets, just don’t count on a big game from him anytime soon until he becomes more consistent.

Running Game Thoughts: The Lions run game continues to do just enough to keep defenses from dropping all 11 guys into coverage, yet not enough to really put up great fantasy stats (save for Mikel Leshoure’s three touchdowns two weeks ago). Overall, Detroit ranks 24th in the league in rush yards per game (98.8) and right around the average in most other rushing stats, although they still have not broken off a run longer than 19 yards (last in the NFL). Leshoure remains the workhorse, though for a pass-heavy team that means only around 15 carries per game, of which he is averaging a modest 4.0 yards per carry. While backup Joique Bell is getting only around seven carries per game, he is a force in PPR leagues and seems at least a bit more exciting and explosive than Leshoure.

While the Packers run defense is a little better than average (tied for 10th in rushing yards allowed per game with 98.3), it is certainly not elite, and with Matthews out this game, it gets worse. Also, four teams they have faced have either abandoned the run early or have been far-below-average offenses to begin with. The Lions at least have the firepower to keep up with the Packers offense, so I could see the running game being used for all four quarters. But the upside is still limited by talent and game plan. Because he gets the bulk of the carries and this should be a tight matchup on his home field, I would start Leshoure as a low-end RB2. But as previously stated, his upside beyond that is very limited. If you are in a PPR league, Bell is a decent high-end RB3 option, but standard-league owners should bench him until his role grows more consistently.

Matthew Stafford: 310 pass yds, 2 TDs, 2 INT
Calvin Johnson: 125 rec yds, 1 TD
Titus Young: 50 rec yds
Ryan Broyles: 40 rec yds
Brandon Pettigrew: 45 rec yds
Mikel Leshoure: 55 rush yds, 1 TD, 15 rec yds
Joique Bell: 20 rush yds, 40 rec yds

Prediction: Packers 28, Lions 27

Ravens @ Steelers - (Anderson)

Passing Game Thoughts: After struggling for several games in a row, quarterback Joe Flacco broke out big against the Raiders last week, throwing for 341 yards and three touchdowns (with one interception). Tight end Dennis Pitta broke out of his funk as well, catching five balls for 67 yards and a touchdown. Wide receiver Torrey Smith caught only two balls but made them count, taking them both to the house for touchdowns (67 yds total). After this big game, the Ravens now have the 13th highest pass yards per game (249), but they are just about average in most other passing categories. This past week’s game shows that there is still life in Ravens players other than running back Ray Rice, but it also shows that they are a team full of matchup players rather than every-week fantasy starters (Oakland ranks in the bottom third in most pass defense stats). Speaking of matchups, this week’s should provide a much tougher challenge, especially in a road game in unfriendly Pittsburgh. In most matchups, I like to start with some good news for the offense, but there is really not much to report here. I suppose the fact that strong safety Troy Polamalu is still expected to be out plays in favor of the Ravens, although the Steelers have been pretty great without him. There is also a chance that free safety Ryan Clark (concussion) misses this game, leaving the Steelers without both their starting safety’s and giving a boost to the Ravens offense (especially the speedy Smith). Other than these little tidbits, however, this matchup certainly favors the Steelers defense, as they rank first in passing yards allowed per game (171; 24 less than second best), completion percentage allowed (54.4) and passing yards allowed per attempt (5.9). If this wasn’t bad enough for Ravens fantasy owners, the Steelers are the absolute toughest defense for fantasy QBs and WRs to score against. Hopefully by now Flacco owners have better options on their team because this could very well be his worst matchup of the season, and he hasn’t exactly been the picture of consistency as it was. As for the Ravens receiving corps, I would certainly look for better options, as Smith and Pitta are the only guys I would consider this week, but only as a mid-range WR3 and a high-end TE2. While the Ravens will not totally abandon the passing game, I'd be surprised if they threw it more than 25 times, and that hurts the overall upside of all the Ravens skill players fantasy-wise.

Running Game Thoughts: Despite having the game well in hand by halftime last week, Ray Rice only carried the ball a surprising 13 times (35 yds, 1 TD). Was this to give him some rest (backup Bernard Pierce carried a season-high 10 times), or was it simply part of the game plan (the Ravens were throwing deep even in the fourth quarter)? We don’t really know for sure, but it is somewhat concerning to Rice owners, since he has carried the ball less than 20 times in all but two games this year. Luckily, Rice’s catching and scoring ability have kept him in the top tier of fantasy RBs throughout the season, but it is frustrating as a Rice owner to see his potential limited by the play calling. Nonetheless, this week I expect Rice to carry a healthy load in what could be a grind-it-out Ravens game plan. As for the matchup with the Pittsburgh defense, it is surely not a favorable one, but considering the Steelers have the best passing defense, the run game should still be leaned on significantly. Currently, the Steelers rank sixth in the NFL in rushing yards allowed per game (94.6) and are the fifth toughest defense for fantasy RBs to score against. On the bright side for the Ravens, the Steelers did just give up 100 yards and a touchdown on the ground to Jamaal Charles, who is part of a much more one-dimensional offense. The story is the same for Rice: if you have him you have to start him, regardless of matchup, and while this game certainly presents a tough challenge, Rice remains active in all facets of the Ravens offense, so he should at least produce high-end RB2 numbers this week.

Joe Flacco: 185 pass yds, 1 TD, 1 INT
Ray Rice: 85 rush yds, 1 TD, 20 rec yds
Torrey Smith: 50 rec yds, 1 TD
Anquan Boldin: 35 rec yds
Dennis Pitta: 50 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: The biggest news with the Steelers passing game is of course Ben Roethlisberger’s injury situation (shoulder, ribs) that will surely keep him out this week, and probably multiple weeks. Because of this, it is a moot point to discuss the Steelers passing offense prior to this week, which was ranked 11th in pass yards per game (250) and had an incredible 17:4 touchdown-to-interception ratio. The starter this week will be Byron Leftwich, who will be making his first start since 2009. Leftwich is certainly a different quarterback then Big Ben, with a slower release and far less pocket presence, although he does possess a big arm like Roethlisberger. The game plan will almost certainly change with Leftwich under center, as well, with more run plays (Steelers were pass-heavy with Ben) and more than likely a conservative passing game overall. The Ravens defense, meanwhile, should be licking their chops knowing they will not have to deal with one of the hardest quarterbacks to bring down but with a much less mobile quarterback. While the Baltimore defense has not been the same since linebacker Ray Lewis and cornerback Lardarius Webb went out with injury, they are still above average and have thus far been the ninth toughest defense for fantasy QBs to score against, thanks mainly to their giving up only eight passing touchdowns thus far (tied for best in the NFL). Against an aggressive defense, and with some rust to shake off, a conservative game plan, and below average talent, Leftwich should not be starting for your fantasy team this week, unless you're in a huge two-QB league, in which case it may be unavoidable. As for his receivers, Antonio Brown may miss this game (as he did last week) while trying to recover from an ankle injury, making him useless, or very risky even if he does play. Mike Wallace is a tough guy to sit most weeks, but I would certainly look for better options this week, as he is no more than a high-upside WR3 who might have to rely on short passes and yards after catch rather than the big plays we normally expect out of him. Heath Miller may be the one guy who I’d consider starting, as he will probably be Leftwich’s safety valve over the middle in passing situations, but he is still just a high-end TE2 option. Overall, not much should be expected from the Steelers passing game this week after losing their most important player. So unless you are really desperate, play it safe and avoid the whole situation from a fantasy perspective.

Running Game Thoughts: This may be the most interesting matchup of the entire game, as everybody know the Steelers will be leaning heavily on the run with Big Ben out, and the Ravens have not been great against the run all year long. After a slow start to the season, the Steelers run game got going a few weeks back with both Isaac Redman and Jonathan Dwyer contributing significantly. Last week the run game hit a small road bump, registering just 95 yards (with no touchdowns) against a previously weak Chiefs run defense. Scoring rushing touchdowns continues to be an issue, as the Steelers have just four on the year (tied for 24th). Dwyer out-carried Redman (who lost a fumble) last week 19 to 8, but neither back looked that great other than a nice 17-yard run from Dwyer. This week Rashard Mendenhall is again questionable, but I would guess the Steelers would try to play him if he can go, considering they need all the help they can get. The matchup on paper is a good one, as the Ravens rank 26th in the league in rush yards allowed per game (132)—and that even includes last week’s game, where the Raiders (down to their third- and fourth-string running backs) put up just 72 rushing yards after having to abandon the run in a blowout game. The Ravens have allowed the 11th most fantasy points to opposing RBs on average. On top of the season-ending injuries to Lewis and Webb, this defense has two other key members hurting, as safety Ed Reed is playing through a torn labrum and tackle Haloti Ngata is dealing with shoulder and knee injuries. Considering this will be a home game featuring a run-heavy attack against a below-par run defense, this could be a juicy matchup for whatever Steelers RB gets the bulk of the carries. Check the injury reports before game time, but I would certainly start Mendenhall as a decent RB2 if he is playing. The coaches have said that he is their starter when healthy, and he is probably the most talented back on the roster. If he plays, Redman and Dwyer become very risky starts, as it would remain to be seen which will play the complimentary role to Mendenhall. If Mendenhall sits, I believe both Dwyer and Redman are solid RB3 choices, though their upside is limited in a committee role. If Mendenhall is out and you have both Dwyer and Redman, I would lean toward starting Dwyer, as he is probably considered the “hot hand” by the coaches and should see a bit more work this week.

Byron Leftwich: 155 pass yds, 1 TD, 1 INT
Mike Wallace: 45 rec yds
Emmanuel Sanders: 40 rec yds
Heath Miller: 50 rec yds
Rashard Mendenhall: 75 rush yds, 1 TD, 10 rec yds
Jonathan Dwyer: 50 rush yds, 10 rec yds
Isaac Redman: 35 rush yds. 10 rec yds

Prediction: Ravens 20, Steelers 17

Eagles @ Redskins - (Marcoccio)

Passing Game Thoughts: The Nick Foles era gets underway this Sunday in the nation’s capital, and after watching Foles play a lot this preseason, my impression is that the era could be a long and successful one. His accuracy and decision making was very impressive for a mid-round pick. During his regular season debut he wasn’t as impressive, but he still managed to complete 22 of 32 passes for 219 yards with one touchdown and one interception. The touchdown pass was to a wide-open Jeremy Maclin where the ball hung in the air to the extent it almost looked like a Hail Mary attempt. Maclin should benefit from the precise, smart passing game that Foles brings to the table, likely more than the free-wheeling DeSean Jackson, who benefitted from Vick moving around in the pocket until Jackson got open. Conventional wisdom may suggest that Foles, who is far less mobile than Vick, will get killed behind the porous Philadelphia O-line, but with his quick release and quick reads, he could be a better fit than Vick, who tended to hold onto the ball too long at times.

Foles is fortunate to make his first regular-season start against the league’s third worst pass defense. The Redskins have allowed an incredible 301.7 ypg through the air and 20 passing touchdowns in the nine games the team has played so far.

Running Game Thoughts: LeSean McCoy owners will hope that Andy Reid looks to protect his rookie passer with a strong running game—but given Reid's history, his Eagles will likely continue to be a pass-first offense. McCoy is dangerous in the open field, and the coaching staff could help the rookie by incorporating some screen plays and dump offs to McCoy in order to keep the opposing pass rush in check. They failed to do much of that with Vick under center though. McCoy will likely continue to be underutilized by his team.

The Skins do present a tough matchup against the run, however, as the team has allowed only 96.2 rushing ypc and seven touchdowns on the ground this season. Old man London Fletcher once again leads the team in tackles and has received strong support from improving third-year backer Perry Riley.

Nick Foles: 245 pass yds, 2 TDs, 1 INT
DeSean Jackson: 45 rec yds
Jason Avant: 35 rec yds
Jeremy Maclin: 80 rec yds, 1 TD
Brent Celek: 40 rec yds, 1 TD
LeSean McCoy: 105 rush yds / 20 rec yds
Bryce Brown: 10 rush yds

Passing Game Thoughts: The more ballyhooed rookie quarterback on the field in D.C. this weekend will of course be Robert Griffin III. Griffin is having an outstanding rookie campaign but has cooled down a bit from a fantasy football perspective after his torrid start. Pierre Garcon is still trying to fight his way back from a foot injury that caused him to leave the game in Week 1, and the latest word is that he “might play” this Sunday. Without Garcon, the Skins’ receiving corps just doesn’t have enough firepower to put up big passing numbers despite RGIII’s best efforts. With Garcon missing, it’s difficult to find the go-to option in the Skins passing game, as Griffin looks to spread the ball around among Josh Morgan, Leonard Hankerson, and veteran Santana Moss. Each has had their moments, but all have lacked consistency. No Washington pass catcher can be started with confidence if Garcon sits once again.

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 225.3 ypg and 14 passing touchdowns through nine games and allowed Tony Romo to throw for two touchdowns last week in a game where he didn’t need to throw much.

Running Game Thoughts: Rookie running back Alfred Morris is averaging a more-than-respectable 4.8 ypc on the season and has gained 793 yards while scoring five touchdowns on the ground. He is a bull with the ball in his hands, and his one-cut-and-go running style makes him a good fit for the Shanahan zone-blocking scheme. Finally fantasy owners do not have to fear the Shanahanigans, as Morris has made all other Washington running backs obsolete this season.

The Eagles have allowed 112.7 ypg rushing and only three rushing touchdowns through nine weeks. The Skins will likely open the game trying to attack the middle of the Eagles defense with Morris in an attempt to soften it up for later in the game when they’ll be too worn out to chase RGIII with his elite speed around the field.

Robert Griffin III: 265 pass yds 1 TD, 1 INT / 45 rush yds, 1 TD
Leonard Hankerson: 40 rec yds
Santana Moss: 35 rec yds
Josh Morgan: 30 rec yds
Logan Paulsen: 55 rec yds, 1 TD
Alfred Morris: 115 rush yds, 1 TD

Prediction: Redskins 24, Eagles 20

Browns @ Cowboys - (Marcoccio)

Passing Game Thoughts: Interestingly, rookie Brandon Weeden has played better outside the friendly confines of Ohio. He is averaging 299.25 passing yards per game and has thrown six of his nine touchdowns in his four road games this season. He’ll look to continue his stellar road streak at Jerry World this Sunday. Weeden, a 28-year-old (now 29) rookie, has appeared shaky at times, but he has received little help from an inexperienced wide receiver corps, lead by the drop-prone Greg Little. Little is a physically gifted athlete but had difficulty catching the ball during his rookie season after playing only one season as a receiver at North Carolina. And his issues have continued this season. Supplemental draft pick Josh Gordon has shown big-play/deep-ball ability once he cracked the lineup but needs to learn to run better routes in order to become a consistent weapon. Weeden has a strong arm and is a heady player but has had issues with accuracy, completing only 55 percent of his passes. On the season, he has thrown for 2,088 yards, with only nine touchdowns versus 12 interceptions. In his defense, four of those picks came in his first professional game against a tough Eagles pass defense, so it does look as though he’s settled in a bit.

The newly improved Cowboys pass defense has been outstanding so far. They rank seventh in the league, having given up only 213.6 ypg and nine touchdown passes. The pass defense hasn’t been able to create turnovers, however, with only four interceptions on the season. Weeden may struggle for the first time on the road this season; but if he’s smart with the football, he should be able to make enough plays to keep the Browns in the game.

Running Game Thoughts: Rookie back Trent Richardson was billed as the best running back prospect since Adrian Peterson during the pre-draft run up, and so far he has lived up to those expectations. He struggled in Week 1, after coming back from a preseason knee sprain, but since then has looked like one of the best backs in the league. He has a unique combination of speed and strength, and his incredible balance allows him to bounce off hits and gain yards after contact. He has rushed for 575 yards and five touchdowns while also adding 240 yards and a score through the air. He should have a special career and give Browns fans some hope for the future in what has been a tough recent history for the franchise.

The Cowboys have played the run well, having allowed 105.2 ypg and just eight rushing touchdowns on the season. They have, however, struggled when facing power runners like Marshawn Lynch and Michael Turner this season, so the unit could have some trouble with the fast and powerful Richardson. But expect Richardson to be the focus of Rob Ryan’s defensive scheme, with the inexperience in the Browns passing game likely not causing him much concern.

Brandon Weeden: 255 pass yds 2 TDs, 1 INT
Greg Little: 55 rec yds, 1 TD
Travis Benjamin: 30 rec yds
Josh Gordon: 80 rec yds, 1 TD
Ben Watson: 25 rec yds
Trent Richardson: 70 rush yds, 1 TD / 35 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: Tony Romo has not been consistent in 2012 and as a result neither has the Dallas passing attack. Limiting his mistakes (13 interceptions) would go a long way toward getting the offense jump-started, and recently things are looking up. Last week Romo wasn’t needed to pass much, as the Dallas defense and special teams ran up the score against the Eagles in the fourth quarter, but he did throw two touchdowns while not turning the ball over. When all are healthy, he has one of the best groups of pass catchers in the league, led by Miles Austin, Dez Bryant and Jason Witten. Austin has consistently performed at a top level all season, but Bryant has had his share of games where he seems to disappear. Witten has been a big part of the game plan after a slow start. He has caught 58 balls since Week 4, after having caught only eight through the first through weeks when he was still recovering from a preseason spleen injury.

Cleveland was without standout corner Joe Haden from Weeks 2 through 5, when he was suspended for suspicion of PEDs. With Haden back, the unit is a lot more respectable than its overall statistics would indicate. However, Haden suffered an oblique injury in Wednesday’s practice and could be slowed by it even if he is able to play. On the season, the team has allowed 247.9 ypg and 16 touchdowns through the air, and Dallas could be catching a break if Haden misses the game.

Running Game Thoughts: Veteran Felix Jones should once again get the start in replacing DeMarco Murray, who left the Week 6 game and has not yet been able to return. Jones has mostly struggled in the starting role but had a good fantasy Week 10, totaling 93 yards while scoring on one of his receptions. With a Thanksgiving game looming just four days after the team plays on Sunday, Murray should sit this week's game out and perhaps be back to face Washington on Thursday. Jones is a good spot starter if Murray does miss another game, as Cleveland has struggled stopping the run (132.2 ypg).

Tony Romo: 245 yds, 2 TDs, 2 INTs / 20 rush yds
Miles Austin: 85 rec yds, 1 TD
Dez Bryant: 20 rec yds
Kevin Ogletree: 15 rec yds
Jason Witten: 55 rec yds, 1 TD
Lance Dunbar: 25 rush yds, 1 TD / 5 rec yds
Felix Jones: 70 rush yds / 25 rec yds

Prediction: Cowboys 27, Browns 21

Colts @ Patriots - (Marcoccio)

Passing Game Thoughts: The Colts-Patriots rivalry has been one of the most intense non-divisional matchups of the last 10 years. Those matchups were attractive due to the Manning vs. Brady face-off, arguably the two best quarterbacks of their generation. However, the Colts mosey into Foxboro in 2012 with a new sheriff. Andrew Luck is in the midst of one of the most impressive rookie quarterback seasons in history. He has the Colts, who won only two games last season, sitting at 6-3 and firmly in the playoff picture. Luck is on pace to throw for 4,677 passing yards with 26 combined touchdowns in his rookie season. He is as smart as any quarterback in the NFL, has shown tremendous poise, and can make all the throws. While he’s not as fast as fellow rookie Robert Griffin, he is very athletic and is capable of gaining yards with his legs—he’s scored five rushing touchdowns already. And he has turned 33-year-old veteran Reggie Wayne back into a fantasy stud, as the one of the most targeted WRs in the league. Offensive coordinator Bruce Arians took over head coaching duties from Chuck Pagano, who is being treated for lymphoma, and will continue to call the plays in double duty. For fantasy purposes, Luck has become a QB1 under Arians' pass-heavy offense, and he remains one this week against a suspect Patriots pass defense.

The Patriots have once again struggled with their pass defense in 2012, after having finished 2011 as one of the worst teams in the league defending the pass. They have allowed 285.3 ypg and have given up a staggering 19 passing touchdowns through nine games in 2012.

Running Game Thoughts: Donald Brown was solid in his role as a feature back through the first five weeks of the season, but a knee scope put him on the shelf for a few weeks, and he now finds himself in a timeshare with rookie Vick Ballard. The Bruce Arians offense just doesn’t feature the run enough to make any back more than a low-end RB2 or flex player, and because those carries are now split between Brown and Ballard, the Colts running game becomes a fantasy afterthought. To make matters worse, it’s second-year back Delone Carter who often takes the field when the Colts are at the goal line. It’s tough to recommend an Indy RB to anyone but the desperate.

The Patriots run defense has been very effective in 2012. The team has allowed only 96.8 ypg on the ground and just five rushing touchdowns on the season. The 3.8 ypc that opposing running backs average against New England shows that the run defense is not just a mirage caused by teams moving the ball at will through the air. 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. Buffalo, with two solid running backs in Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller, was able to gain yards on the ground against this unit last week, but the Brown/Ballard combination just doesn’t come close to the firepower of the Bills’ tandem.

Andrew Luck: 285 pass yds 2 TDs, 1 INT / 20 rush yds
Reggie Wayne: 80 rec yds, 1 TD
Donnie Avery: 75 rec yds
Dwayne Allen: 45 rec yds, 1 TD
Donald Brown: 35 rush yds / 15 rec yds
Vick Ballard: 25 rush yds, 1 TD / 5 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: Tom Brady’s ego will likely be on full display in a matchup that will be billed as the King vs. the Prince. Brady is in the midst of another of those fine statistical seasons that have defined the second half of his career. He is the master of taking what a defense gives him underneath, while knowing when the time is right to strike deep downfield. His old friend Wes Welker is still his security blanket in the flat, but tight end Rob Gronkowski is where his bread usually gets buttered. Gronkowski’s size and strength make him a matchup nightmare, and Brady knows how to take advantage of a mismatch better than any quarterback in the league. Brady should get third-year tight end Aaron Hernandez—another matchup nightmare for opponents—back this week after he missed some time with an ankle sprain. It’s good to be the King, and Brady will likely let Luck know on Sunday that he’ll be keeping his crown for at least a few more seasons.

Brady wasn’t asked to do much against a weak Bills secondary last week. But, if necessary, he will be able to easily attack the soft coverage of the 15th-ranked Colts pass defense with his plethora of weapons. The Colts still feature a pair of elite pass rushers in Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis, who will look to knock Brady around as much as possible so that he doesn’t have the time to attack downfield.

Running Game Thoughts: Former LSU running back Stevan Ridley has given the New England 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 who has carried the rushing load for an offense that has been very balanced this season. Ridley has 814 yards and six touchdowns on the ground in nine games so far, putting him on pace for a strong RB1-type season. The Patriots have been a very balanced offense thus far and should continue to run the ball against an improved but still not quite formidable Colts run defense that allows 120.3 rushing ypg.

Tom Brady: 255 pass yds 3 TDs
Brandon Lloyd: 40 rec yds
Wes Welker: 50 rec yds, 1 TD
Rob Gronkowski: 55 rec yds, 1 TD
Aaron Hernandez: 80 rec yds, 1 TD
Stevan Ridley: 105 rush yds, 1 TD / 10 rec yds
Danny Woodhead: 5 rush yds / 15 rec yds
Shane Vereen: 35 rush yards, 1 TD

Prediction: Patriots 38, Colts 24