Fantasy Football Today - fantasy football rankings, cheatsheets, and information
A Fantasy Football Community!

Create An Account  |  Advertise  |  Contact      

Inside the Matchup
Week 14

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




NO @ WAS | MIA @ SF | ARI @ SEA | HOU @ NE
 Predictions - YTD
Rk Staffer W L %
1 Anderson 33 11 75.0
2 Caron 31 12 72.1
3 Smith 31 15 67.4
4 Marcoccio 22 18 55.0

Broncos @ Raiders - (Caron)

Passing Game Thoughts: Peyton Manning continued his “comeback player of the year” campaign in Week 13 when he threw for 242 yards, three touchdowns and an interception in a win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Even without Willis McGahee in the lineup, Manning has proven to be the quarterback that the Broncos have been dreaming about since the retirement of John Elway and with seven straight wins, this might be the hottest team in football. Manning’s favorite receiver, Demaryius Thomas, also continued his recent hot streak as he hauled in eight passes for 99 yards and two of Manning’s touchdowns. Throughout all of this offensive success, though, Eric Decker has seen his production fall off significantly in recent weeks. Over the past month, he has caught just 10 passes and scored just one touchdown, failing to reach double-digit fantasy points in any game.

The slump that Decker is in could be cured this week as he and the Broncos head to Oakland to go up against a Raiders defense that allowed 37 points to Denver earlier this season. Decker caught 7 passes for 79 yards and a score while Thomas added an additional 103 yards in that game. Manning had his most successful passing day of the year, throwing for a total of 338 yards and three scores while avoiding turning the ball over. The Raiders haven’t been any better shutting down opposing quarterbacks lately, as they have allowed 10 passing touchdowns against during their past four games and just got done allowing Brandon Weeden to throw for 364 yards a week ago.

Running Game Thoughts: Week 13 saw Denver continue with what worked from Week 12 as they gave former first round pick Knowshon Moreno 20 carries against the Buccaneers. Moreno was less successful with his carries this week as he ran for just 69 yards and was held out of the end zone but we are certain now that Moreno is the running back to have going forward and that Ronnie Hillman will remain an afterthought. When the Broncos signed Jacob Hester a week ago, there was a bit of concern that Moreno might lose some goal line carries. As it turned out, Hester didn’t touch the ball at all and for now we’ll assume that Moreno will get whatever goal line touches don’t go to Manning and the passing game.

Moreno should have a nice opportunity this week as he goes up against an Raiders run defense that has allowed at least 14 fantasy points to opposing running backs in seven straight games. In the previous Denver/Oakland matchup, Willis McGahee ran for 112 yards and a score. Moreno might not be the hard-nosed runner that McGahee is, but he is utilized in the passing game and that has been a weak spot for the Raiders this season. If Denver gets up multiple scores as many expect them to, look for Moreno to be given a heavy workload, likely of 20+ carries for the third straight week, which should make him a solid RB2 for fantasy owners.

Peyton Manning: 315 pass yds, 3 TD
Demaryius Thomas: 110 rec yds, 1 TD
Eric Decker: 80 rec yds, 1 TD
Jacob Tamme: 60 rec yds, 1 TD
Knowshon Moreno: 75 rush yds, 1 TD, 30 rec yds
Ronnie Hillman: 20 rush yds, 10 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: Following a discouraging Week 12 performance against the Bengals, Raiders quarterback Carson Palmer got things going in the right direction this past week as he threw for 351 yards and two touchdowns with an interception against the Browns. Palmer has thrown for at least one touchdown in every game but one this season, but has also seen his fantasy value limited as he has thrown an interception in every game but two. Receivers Denarius Moore and Darrius Heyward-Bey have been slumping lately but it was tight end Brandon Myers who became a fantasy surprise in Week 13 when he caught an impressive 14 passes for 130 yards and a touchdown. Those 14 catches were more passes than any Oakland Raiders player has caught in any game in the history of the franchise. Myers has now caught five or more passes in five straight contests and has been a surprising fantasy breakout performer in 2012.

I mentioned above that Palmer had thrown a touchdown in every game except one this season. That one game? Against the Broncos in Week 4. Denver held Palmer to just 202 yards through the air as they blew out Oakland by a final score of 37-6. It’d be hard to believe that Oakland is going to end the seven-game win streak that the Broncos have been on but the Raiders have also averaged 23 points per game at home this season. Watch for Brandon Myers again in this game as the Broncos rank 31st in the NFL in fantasy points allowed to opposing tight ends. They’ve allowed more touchdowns (nine) to the position than any team in the league.

Running Game Thoughts: Rumors circulated last week that running back Darren McFadden may be in line to make his return to the lineup against the Browns. Fantasy owners who relied on that rumor were disappointed when the Raiders star did not suit up which instead allowed Marcel Reece to get the majority of the touches out of the backfield for the fourth straight game. Both Darren McFadden and backup Mike Goodson are expected back this week, which could mean that Reece takes a backseat for the time being. Some of Reece’s value could still remain as he has become a shockingly productive member of the passing game as a fullback, catching 28 passes over his past five games. We’ll have to monitor things closely this week to see how many touches he does get. For now, it will likely be McFadden who gets the bulk of the carries. Though he hasn’t been the fantasy superstar that some expected him to be this season, McFadden is still the most talented member of this backfield and is capable of exploding at any time.

If McFadden is back in the lineup as we assume, he could be in line for somewhat of a “revenge” game against a Broncos defense that held him to just 34 yards on 13 carries in Week 4. With the injury concern still looming and his lack of success the last time these two teams played, McFadden is a very risky play this week as is any member of the Raiders backfield. The Broncos haven’t allowed a rushing touchdown to a running back over their past four contests and have held opposing backfields to under 100 rushing yards in six of their past seven. While all of these factors do play against the Raiders running game, one positive note might be that Darren McFadden has historically played well against the Broncos. In eight games against them, “Run DMC” has scored a total of six touchdowns and has averaged nearly 100 yards of offense.

Carson Palmer: 280 pass yds, 2 TD, 2 INT
Denarius Moore: 60 rec yds
Darrius Heyward-Bey: 40 rec yds
Brandon Myers: 70 rec yds, 1 TD
Darren McFadden: 60 rushing yds, 20 rec yds, 1 TD
Marcel Reece: 10 rush yds, 55 rec yds

Prediction: Broncos 34, Raiders 20 ^ Top

Titans @ Colts - (Smith)

Passing Game Thoughts: Tennessee quarterback Jake Locker has not been particularly fantasy-friendly since making his return from injury three weeks ago. Since then he’s completed just half of his passes with four touchdowns and five interceptions. He’s only 23rd in fantasy points per game among quarterbacks. He has a plethora of weapons to throw to, but spreads the ball out, so wide receivers Nate Washington, Kendal Wright and Kenny Britt don’t stand out, and neither does tight end Jared Cook. Wright did catch a touchdown pass against Indianapolis in Week 8, but Locker wasn’t the quarterback for that game, Matt Hasselbeck was.

The Colts rank 20th in the NFL in pass defense and tied for 21st in passing touchdowns yielded. They are 17th in FPTS/G permitted to quarterbacks and tied for fifth-most FPTS/G given up to wideouts, but have allowed the sixth-fewest FPTS/G to tight ends. Good quarterbacks have sliced them up, with Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers each throwing three scores against Indy and Brady, Jay Cutler and Matthew Stafford tossing for more than 300 yards when playing the Colts. Part of that is due to Indy’s inability to cover receivers – they’ve allowed a 100-yard pass-catcher in four of their last five games.

Running Game Thoughts: Chris Johnson had only 51 yards on 13 carries last week against Houston, which stopped a streak of six consecutive games with at least 80 rushing yards. He’s been outstanding since Week 4, but his putrid first three games of the season had him behind the eight ball and as such he’s only 12th in fantasy points at the running back position and 15th in FPTS/G. He faced the Colts in Week 8 and had 99 yards on 21 carries, numbers which he should put up again this week.

Indianapolis has given up the eighth-most FPTS/G to running backs, rank 22nd in rush defense, tied for 26th in rushing scores allowed and 30th in YPC allowed. The Colts were solid against Mikel Leshoure last week, holding him to 57 yards on 21 carries, but Joique Bell ran for 81 yards and he’s one of six backs who have broken 80 yards when facing Indy.

Jake Locker: 215 pass yds, 1 TD, 1 INT / 25 rush yds
Kendall Wright: 65 rec yds
Nate Washington: 50 rec yds
Kenny Britt: 45 rec yds, 1 TD
Jared Cook: 30 rec yds
Chris Johnson: 105 rush yds, 2 TD / 15 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: Andrew Luck has arguably been the rookie of the year, though RG3 is also right there. Either way, each has cemented their place in fantasy lineups for years to come, with Luck ranking third in fantasy points and FPTS/G at the quarterback position. He’s thrown for at least 330 yards with multiple touchdowns in three of his last five games, and has a premier weapon in Reggie Wayne. The veteran receiver from Miami is third in the league in receiving yards and last week was the first time he failed to gain at least 70 yards. Wayne isn’t in the top-five in fantasy points because he has just three touchdowns, but is still an every-week fantasy starter. Each had success in Week 8 against Tennessee, with Luck going 26-of-38 for 297 yards with one touchdown and one interception, and Wayne making seven catches for 91 yards.

The Titans are tied for ninth-most FPTS/G allowed to quarterbacks, are 16th in FPTS/G allowed to wide receivers and have given up the third-most FPTS/G to tight ends. Just six teams have yielded more passing yards this season than Tennessee, only one has permitted more touchdown passes and no team has seen opposing quarterbacks complete a higher percentage of passes.

Running Game Thoughts: Donald Brown is out for this week’s game, which means Vick Ballard is the primary runner for Indy. His numbers aren’t glamorous, but he’s been solid this season, rushing for at least 60 yards in all three of the games in which he’s had more than 13 carries. Ballard’s a great flex option for fantasy owners this week against a Titans team which has been soft against the run this season.

Only two teams have allowed more FPTS/G to running backs than Tennessee this year, who are also 27th against the run, tied for 22nd in rushing touchdowns allowed but 16th in YPC given up. Yet the Titans have held their own of late, slowing Arian Foster last week to the tune of 38 yards on 14 carries, and have held backs to less than 65 yards in each of their last three games.

Andrew Luck: 305 pass yds, 2 TD, 1 INT
Reggie Wayne: 80 rec yds, 1 TD
Donnie Avery: 60 rec yds
T.Y. Hilton: 55 rec yds
Dwayne Allen: 35 rec yds, 1 TD
Coby Fleener: 30 rec yds
LaVon Brazill: 15 rec yds
Vick Ballard: 85 rush yds, 1 TD / 20 rec yds

Prediction: Colts 30, Titans 24 ^ Top

Eagles @ Buccaneers - (Smith)

Passing Game Thoughts: Nick Foles has led the Eagles’ passing attack in each of the last four games, replacing an injured Michael Vick. Foles hasn’t been a worthwhile fantasy option in any way, with four turnovers and just two touchdowns, and is also minus DeSean Jackson, who is out with an injury. That pretty much leaves Jeremy Maclin as the lone fantasy-worthy player among Philly pass-catchers, though for this week we’d also consider Jason Avant due to the bounty of fantasy points that Tampa allows in the passing game.

The Buccaneers have allowed more FPTS/G to quarterbacks than all but one other team in the league, and no squad has surrendered as many FPTS/G to receivers as Tampa, though they’re 14th in FPTS/G allowed to tight ends. Peyton Manning tossed a trio of touchdowns last week against the Bucs, becoming the fifth quarterback to throw at least three scores against them. Two of those touchdowns went to Demaryius Thomas, who also had 99 receiving yards in the contest and is now one of 10 wideouts to obtain 90 or more yards when facing Tampa.

Running Game Thoughts: LeSean McCoy was still questionable for this week’s game as of this writing due to his concussion. He has been replaced by Bryce Brown, who has been magnificent in his last two games, rushing for 178 and 169 yards, respectively, with a pair of touchdowns in each game. He’s still fantasy-starter material this week, but don’t expect the same type of output against a Buccaneers defense that has been stout against the run.

Tampa has given up the 13th-fewest FPTS/G to running backs, is the NFL leader in run defense and YPC allowed, but are just tied for 16th in rushing scores yielded. Only two backs have gained more than 71 yards on the ground versus the Bucs, but they’ve been prone to letting running backs beat them as receivers, with seven different players at the position picking up 30 or more yards that way.

Nick Foles: 230 pass yds, 2 TD, 2 INT
Jeremy Maclin: 85 rec yds, 1 TD
Jason Avant: 60 rec yds
Brent Celek: 40 rec yds
Riley Cooper: 20 rec yds, 1 TD
Bryce Brown: 55 rush yds / 15 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: Josh Freeman hasn’t thrown for more than 262 yards in his last six games, but does have at least two scoring passes in seven of his last eight contests. He’s 13th among quarterbacks in fantasy points and 14th in FPTS/G, but his recent touchdown bonanza makes him a solid fantasy starter. So too are his pair of wideouts, Mike Williams and Vincent Jackson. Each is in the top-20 in fantasy points at receiver, with Williams catching six touchdowns and Jackson snaring seven. But Jackson has been more consistent in terms of yards, and thus has proven more valuable. And let’s not forget Dallas Clark, who was an afterthought at tight until recently but has scored in three of his last four games, and faces a Philly squad this week that gives up plenty of passing scores.

The Eagles are 16th in the league in pass defense, but just four teams have allowed more touchdown throws than they have. Touchdowns equal fantasy points, so to that end Philly has given up the sixth-most FPTS/G to quarterbacks, are tied for ninth-most FPTS/G allowed to wideouts and are tied for 16th in FPTS/G allowed to tight ends. Quarterbacks have thrown at least two touchdowns against the Eagles in each of their past six games and a wide receiver has caught a touchdown when facing Philly in every game from Week 6 on.

Running Game Thoughts: If not for Andrew Luck and RG3, Doug Martin would likely be the rookie of the year in the NFL. But fantasy owners aren’t interested in individual postseason awards, they’re interested in production, and Martin brings that. He’s third in the league in rushing, tied for second in rushing scores, third in fantasy points among running backs and third in FPTS/G. He’s failed to run for at least 70 yards in three of his last four games, but offsets that with his pass-catching prowess, and is a legit RB1.

Only 10 teams have allowed fewer FPTS/G to running backs than Philadelphia, who ranks 18th in run defense, 13th in YPC given up and tied for eighth-fewest rushing scores allowed. No running back has reached 100 yards on the ground against the Eagles, though Ray Rice did amass 99 back in Week 2. Otherwise, no runner has gained even 85 yards when facing Philly, and of the six rushing scores they’ve allowed, only three have come from running backs.

Josh Freeman: 260 pass yds, 2 TD
Vincent Jackson: 105 rec yds, 1 TD
Mike Williams: 65 rec yds, 1 TD
Dallas Clark: 35 rec yds
Tiquan Underwood: 15 rec yds
Doug Martin: 65 rush yds, 1 TD / 30 rec yds

Prediction: Buccaneers 24, Eagles 17 ^ Top

Falcons @ Panthers - (Smith)

Passing Game Thoughts: Matt Ryan has been less than stellar recently, throwing for a season-low 165 yards last week against the Saints, and that came only two games after throwing five interceptions against the Cardinals. He’s plummeted to eighth in fantasy points at his position, but is facing a Carolina team that he shredded in Week 4, going 25-of-40 for 369 yards with three scores and one pick. Wideout Roddy White had eight receptions for 169 yards and two touchdowns in that game, but he’s been quiet lately, with only six catches for 77 yards in his last two contests. He’s still 15th in FPTS/G at wideout, but now trails teammate Julio Jones, who is 10th and has 120 or more yards in three of his last six contests. Tight end Tony Gonzalez remains a stalwart as well, ranking second in fantasy points among tight ends and third in FPTS/G.

The Panthers have the league’s eighth-ranked pass defense, are tied for ninth in passing scores given up, have allowed the 11th-fewest FPTS/G to quarterbacks and fifth-fewest FPTS/G to wideouts, but are tied for 16th in FPTS/G given up to tight ends.

Running Game Thoughts: Michael Turner has seen better days, and has run for fewer than 20 yards in two of his last four games, but he’s scored in each of his last three contests, is tied for seventh in rushing scores among running backs and is 16th in fantasy points at his position. In his Week 4 contest against Carolina, Turner had 13 carries for 103 yards and three catches for 68 yards and one touchdown. He’s not likely to find the end zone via reception this week because he rarely catches the ball, but the Panthers have been pliant on run defense and Turner should have a solid day.

Carolina has given up the sixth-most FPTS/G to running backs, are 25th in rush defense, tied for 18th in rushing scores allowed and are 21st in YPC permitted. Those numbers weren’t as bad a few weeks ago, but the Panthers have been hideous against the run over their last three games. Carolina surrendered 138 yards to Doug Martin in Week 11, 178 yards to Bryce Brown in Week 12 and 127 yards last week to Jamaal Charles.

Matt Ryan: 250 pass yds, 2 TD, 1 INT
Julio Jones: 95 rec yds, 1 TD
Roddy White: 70 rec yds, 1 TD
Tony Gonzalez: 55 rec yds
Harry Douglas: 15 rec yds
Michael Turner: 75 rush yds, 1 TD
Jacquizz Rodgers: 25 rush yds / 30 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: Cam Newton has had some big-time ups and downs in his second season, but has come on of late, throwing six touchdowns and no interceptions in his last three games. One of those touchdowns has gone to Steve Smith, who has only two all season but is 12th in receiving yards for the year. The only other fantasy option in the Carolina passing game is tight end Greg Olsen, who is 10th in FPTS/G at his position but has three touchdowns in his last four games. He’s scored four times this season, including once in Week 4 against Atlanta, a game in which he had six catches for 89 yards, and Newton was 15-of-24 for 215 yards and two touchdowns to go with nine rushes for 86 yards and one score.

Atlanta is in the middle of the pack statistically against the pass, ranking 15th, but only the Ravens have allowed fewer touchdowns through the air. The Falcons are tied for seventh-fewest FPTS/G given up to quarterbacks and have allowed the seventh-fewest FPTS/G to receivers, but have yielded the eighth-most FPTS/G to tight ends.

Running Game Thoughts: The Carolina running game is led by their quarterback, the aforementioned Newton, who has 524 yards and six rushing scores this year. The team usually features a one-two punch in DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart, but Stewart missed last week’s game against the Chiefs with an ankle injury, and may not play this week. Williams picked up 67 yards on 12 carries in his stead, which wasn’t as many carries as most though the might get. If Stewart can’t go, Williams is a decent flex option this week, considering that he had 11 carries for 49 yards and one touchdown in Week 4 against Atlanta, a team that has not stopped the run efficiently this season.

The Falcons are 20th in the NFL in rush defense, 28th in rushing scores given up and 28th in YPC allowed. They have permitted the ninth-most FPTS/G in the league to running backs this year, and have held only three teams to fewer than 89 rushing yards in a game all season. Yet in two of those games, they still have up a rushing score, so fantasy points weren’t bare.

Cam Newton: 240 pass yds, 2 TD, 1 INT / 40 rush yds, 1 TD
Steve Smith: 80 rec yds, 1 TD
Greg Olsen: 65 rec yds
Brandon LaFell: 50 rec yds, 1 TD
DeAngelo Williams: 75 rush yds / 25 rec yds
Mike Tolbert: 20 rush yds / 10 rec yds

Prediction: Falcons 27, Panthers 20 ^ Top

Jets @ Jaguars - (Smith)

Passing Game Thoughts: Mark Sanchez is going to be the team’s quarterback again this week after getting benched last week against the Cardinals in game that featured he and Ryan Lindley setting quarterback play back 50 years. The Jets don’t have a much better option apparently, so Sanchez it is, and that even against a below-average Jacksonville pass defense, New York doesn’t have many fantasy options in their passing game, though Jeremy Kerley or Stephen Hill could be of use to fantasy owners who start three wide receivers, due mostly to their match-up.

The Jaguars have allowed the seventh-most FPTS/G to quarterbacks and the 12th-most FPTS/G to wide receivers but are tied for 11th-fewest FPTS/G given up to tight ends. They give up a lot of yards through the air, ranking 28th in the league against the pass, but are tied for 13th in passing scores allowed, though Matt Schaub did burn them for five scores, and nine wideouts have gained 80 or more yards against them.

Running Game Thoughts: Shonn Greene is the Jets’ primary running back, and though he hasn’t scored in five games and his five touchdowns have come in three of the team’s 12 games, he’ll likely break 1,000 rushing yards for the year and has run for 175 yards in his last two games. Bilal Powell has gotten at least 11 carries in each of the Jets’ last three games, and has been a touchdown vulture, scoring three times in those contests.

Just four teams have given up more FPTS/G to running backs than Jacksonville, who are second-to-last in rush defense and rushing scores yielded but 17th in YPC allowed. The Jags have really had tough time stopping opposing running backs for the last month or so, with six different backs gaining at least 70 yards on the ground against them over their last five contests.

Mark Sanchez: 195 pass yds, 1 TD, 1 INT
Jeremy Kerley: 75 rec yds
Stephen Hill: 50 rec yds, 1 TD
Chaz Schilens: 35 rec yds
Jeff Cumberland: 25 rec yds
Shonn Greene: 95 rush yds, 1 TD
Bilal Powell: 40 rush yds

Passing Game Thoughts: Chad Henne came down to earth last week after three good performances, and turned the ball over twice while throwing for 202 yards and one score. He may be without fantasy breakout performer Cecil Shorts this week due to a concussion, and that would hurt Henne’s value all the more. Fantasy owners have also seen Justin Blackmon go from 236 yards in Week 11 to nine yards last week, and nobody that represents the Jacksonville passing game can be trusted by fantasy owners, especially with a tough match-up against New York.

The Jets obviously aren’t as good without Darrelle Revis, but they’re no pushovers either. They’re fourth in the NFL in pass defense, tied for 13th in passing scores given up and only one team has allowed quarterbacks to complete a lower percentage of their passes. Just five teams have given up fewer FPTS/G to both quarterbacks and wideouts than the Jets, though they have allowed the ninth-most FPTS/G to tight ends.

Running Game Thoughts: The Jaguars are emptying the cupboard in their running back stash. Maurice Jones-Drew continues to be sidelined, Jalen Parmele is out, and Rashad Jennings suffered a concussion last week and may not play. That leaves Montell Owens as the team’s primary runner, who is in his fourth season with Jacksonville, and has a career total of 112 yards on 21 carries. There isn’t a lot to be gleaned from those numbers, but fantasy owners who are willing to take a chance have a good match-up to do it with.

New York has been more than solid against the pass this year, but the same isn’t true of their efforts against the run. They have allowed the seventh-most FPTS/G to running backs, are 29th in the league in rush defense, tied for 26th in rushing scores allowed and 19th in YPC given up.

Chad Henne: 190 pass yds, 1 TD, 2 INT
Justin Blackmon: 60 rec yds
Marcedes Lewis: 45 rec yds
Kevin Elliott: 35 rec yds, 1 TD
Jordan Shipley: 15 rec yds
Montell Owens: 65 rush yds / 25 rec yds

Prediction: Jets 17, Jaguars 13 ^ Top

Cowboys @ Bengals - (Anderson)

Passing Game Thoughts: While Tony Romo and the Cowboys passing game had one of their best games of the season last week against the Eagles (303 pass yards, 3 TDs, 0 INT), you still get a sense that they should be doing better more consistently with the level of talent they have. Yardage-wise, the Cowboys are right up there, ranking second behind only the Lions. But their TD-to-INT ratio is below average (20:15), and they continue to give up a lot of sacks (28). The receiving corps has come on very strong lately, especially Dez Bryant. After a somewhat slow start, he is on fire his past four games, totaling 29 catches, 475 yards, and 6 touchdowns. While Bryant has undoubtedly grabbed the role as Romo’s No. 1 target, Miles Austin seems to be back near full health and should compete for catches each week moving forward. The only other guy in the passing game worth mentioning here is tight end Jason Witten, who, much like Bryant, had a slow start but has come on strong of late, leading the team in receptions and following only Bryant in yards, though he still has just one touchdown on the year.

The Bengals looked like a pushover defense the first few weeks of the season but have gotten healthier in their secondary and sport one of the league’s best and most underrated defensive lines. The Bengals have been red-hot of late against opposing passing offenses, giving up just one passing touchdown the past four weeks while causing seven turnovers. On the season, they are the eighth toughest defense for fantasy QBs to score against, but over the past five weeks they’re the third toughest. While the Cowboys have more talent on offense than most of the teams the Bengals have dominated lately, the matchup between the Dallas offensive line and the Cincinnati defensive line will probably be dominated by the Bengals most of the game. This is going to force Romo into some tough throws, some throw-away passes, and more than likely an interception or two. While I expect the final numbers to look decent from a fantasy standpoint, no Dallas player this week is an elite option. Romo is a very low-end QB1, as decent yardage numbers will be there but not a lot of touchdowns—and probably some turnovers. As for the receivers, Bryant can’t be benched. The Bengals will certainly gameplan to stop him, which makes him a low-end WR1 compared to the top 5 option he’s been lately. Austin may get less attention this week, thanks to Bryant’s play, and actually could be a decent mid-range WR2. Finally, the Bengals are actually much more generous to fantasy TEs (compared to QBs and WRs), so Witten is a low- to mid-range TE1 as a safe bet to get five or more catches and decent yardage totals.

Running Game Thoughts: It was obvious the Cowboys missed running back Demarco Murray when he was out with an injury, since their other running backs are inconsistent and lack the raw talent that Murray possesses. After shaking off a bit of rust, Murray’s last two games have been pretty good, as he’s totaled 176 yards rushing and a touchdown. Last week’s 23 carries is a great sign that his injuries are behind him and the coaching staff trusts him to carry a full workload. Barring any unforeseen setbacks the next day or two, Murray should easily see 18-plus rushes this week, making all other Dallas running backs obsolete.

As for the Bengals rush defense, it is average overall but is the more vulnerable aspect of their defense. Against fantasy RBs, they are the 13th easiest to score points against, although they have been much tougher over the past five weeks, having allowed just one rushing touchdown. While the matchup is nowhere near great, Murray’s workload and the fact that the defense will probably be keyed in on Bryant, should make Murray a mid-range RB2 this week, and he might even flirt with low-end RB1 numbers if the Cowboys decide to go run-heavy. Start Murray with confidence this week.

Tony Romo: 285 pass yds, 1 TD, 2 INTs
Dez Bryant: 80 rec yds, 1 TD
Miles Austin: 70 rec yds
Jason Witten: 70 rec yds
DeMarco Murray: 85 rush yds, 1 TD, 15 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: Other than his lackluster game last week against the Chargers, Andy Dalton has avoided the late-season slump and decline that he dealt with last year. Compared to his first six games, he’s thrown for the same amount of touchdowns and less interceptions through the past six games. Of course it helps to have one of the top receivers in the game to throw to. A.J. Green continues to rack up big yardage and touchdown numbers, currently ranking sixth and first in those categories, respectively. If the Bengals could get a second wide receiver to play consistently (Sanu was coming on before he got hurt), they could become an elite passing team. But for now they are reliant on the Dalton-to-Green connection for consistently big production. The only other Bengal worth mentioning this week is tight end Jermaine Gresham, who has stepped up of late (3 TDs in his past four games) but is still not a top option at the position, other than perhaps in a PPR league, because of his lack of yardage numbers.

The Cowboys started the season off as a near-elite passing defense, but the toll of various injuries has really hurt them, making them not much better than a middle-of-the-road passing defense. As evidence: On the season, they are the ninth toughest defense for fantasy QBs to score against, but through the past five weeks (when they’ve had most of their injuries) they are actually the ninth easiest. With not much help in sight, there is little reason to believe they will get back to their early-season stinginess on defense. Start Green as a WR1 and probable top 5 option at the position this week. Gresham makes a solid start in PPR leagues, but I still don’t think he is much more than a mid-range TE2 at this point in standard leagues, especially considering that the Cowboys are a little tougher against fantasy TEs than they are to WRs. As for Dalton, I still think there are better options overall, but as a high-end QB2, he makes for a sneaky good play this week, as his numbers with Green alone might make starting him worth it.

Running Game Thoughts: While I have previously knocked running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis a bit for being boring and unattractive from a fantasy perspective, I must admit he has come on very nicely the past three games, totaling 348 yards and two touchdowns. While his upside is still capped by a lack of breakaway speed and his straight-ahead running style, the Bengals coaches are not afraid to lean on him, and his uptick in number of carries proves it (averaging 23 over the past three weeks). With backup Cedric Peerman destined to miss this week, Green-Ellis is in line to once again get 20 or more carries in a home matchup.

The Cowboys are coming off a game in which they gave up 169 yards and two touchdowns to Eagles rookie running back Bryce Brown, and on the season they are a bit weaker than the average in terms of run defense. Now Brown has a much different style than Green-Ellis, relying on jukes and speed rather than power and instincts, but still, it is a good sign for Green-Ellis owners that the Bengals have seen the Cowboys weakness in run defense. While I still don’t get super excited at Green-Ellis’s potential, I like his as a running back who gets a large volume of work on an offense that should be able to keep pace with almost anybody. For this reason, I think BJGE is a moderately safe RB2 this week—as well as for the rest of the season.

Andy Dalton: 270 pass yds, 2 TD, 1 INT
A.J. Green: 95 rec yds, 1 TD
Jermaine Gresham: 50 rec yds
Andrew Hawkins: 45 rec yds
BenJarvus Green-Ellis: 90 rush yds, 15 rec yds

Prediction: Bengals 27, Cowboys 24 ^ Top

Chiefs @ Browns - (Anderson)

Passing Game Thoughts: If you looked at a random 201-yard, two-touchdown, zero-interception stat line, you might assume that Drew Brees had a decent first half of a football game. However, that line didn’t belong to Brees; instead, it represented the best passing game the Chiefs have had all season, and they had it last week against the Panthers. Brady Quinn looked fairly solid, and although the play-calling was very conservative and run-based, Quinn certainly did his part by not turning the ball over and by making short accurate passes, compiling a very impressive 19 for 23 passes. So now that I have given the Chiefs their due credit for last week’s performance, let’s get back to reality and get one thing clear: the Kansas City passing game is one of the bottom three units in the game today, and in fantasy football you want very little or nothing to do with them. As just one piece of evidence, even after last week’s 2:0 TD-to-INT ratio, the Chiefs still have the worst ratio in the league by a good margin—a horrible 8:16. Add this to the fact that they are one of the most run-heavy offenses in the league and do not have any decent receivers besides Dwayne Bowe, and you have a scary situation.

What’s worse is that the Browns are one of the hottest defenses in the league right now, especially against the pass. On the season, they are the 13th easiest defense for fantasy QBs to score against, but over the past five weeks they are actually the fifth toughest in that category. Even worse for the Chiefs, the Browns defense is considerably better at home, where they have given up just one passing touchdown through their last three home games and have held opposing quarterbacks to under 200 yards in each game. The bottom line is that it probably doesn’t matter much who the game is against. The Chiefs passing game is not a good source of points. The only possible guy worth consideration is Bowe, but even he is merely a mid-range WR3 this week, as he will probably be shadowed by stud cornerback Joe Haden and therefore struggle to get open consistently.

Running Game Thoughts: Kansas City is one of the few teams that have more rushing (392) than passing attempts (384) this season, and for good reason. Jamaal Charles is perhaps their best player, and their quarterback duo of Brady Quinn and Matt Cassel are, well, not as good. While Charles’ usage has been a bit inconsistent this season (four games with less than 15 carries, five games with more than 20 carries), his yardage numbers (1,055 yds, 4.8 ypc) have been quite impressive despite a lack of touchdowns (3). The good news for Charles owners is that the coaches finally seem confident in giving him a full workload, as his last four games he has averaged just under 23 carries per game, which has turned into 105 yards per game.

The Browns have been an average run defense if you look at the season as a whole, but they have been much tougher the past three weeks, ranking as the fourth toughest team for fantasy RBs to score against. Charles is a near elite talent at running back, so he should bring fairly high expectations this week. Still, the Browns are not a nice matchup for any running back at this time, unlike at the beginning of the season. I expect this to be a close, grind-it-out game, with both teams’ quarterbacks being below average and both running backs being above average. In this way, Charles will get the volume of work to be worth a start in fantasy leagues. While you should not expect a carry-my-team performance from him, he should be good for high-end RB2 numbers if his workload trend continues (which I expect).

Brady Quinn: 180 pass yds, 1 TD, 1 INT
Dwayne Bowe: 50 rec yds
Tony Moeaki: 35 rec yds
Dexter McCluster: 25 rec yds
Jamaal Charles: 85 rush yds, 25 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: Much like the rest of the team, the Browns passing game has made strides this year, going from terrible to bad to halfway decent in certain matchups. Last week they faced a weak Oakland defense and gouged them for 364 pass yards and a touchdown (with two picks, unfortunately). While the touchdown-to-interception ratio was obviously not good, the yardage was great. And perhaps more importantly, Brandon Weeden was very accurate (69.4%) compared to most of the rest of the season, where he would frequently complete less than 60 percent of his throws (he’s now 57 percent on the year). The main benefactor of Weeden’s improvement has been rookie wide receiver Josh Gordon, who last week caught six balls for 116 yards and a touchdown and now has five touchdowns on the year and ranks third in yards per reception average (19.0).

This week Gordon and Weeden should be licking their chops, as they face a Chiefs passing defense that has given up the most touchdowns in the league (25) and the highest yards per pass attempt average (8.3). They also rank among the top 12 most generous defense to fantasy QBs. While the Chiefs defense has shown some signs of life recently, I would not hesitate to start Gordon as a mid-range WR2 this week, as just one long completion for a score may be enough to make his whole day, even if there are not a ton of catches made. As for Weeden, he is still off the radar as a starter unless you are in a deep two-QB league, as he is too inconsistent, especially with touchdown passes, and the offense is built around running back Trent Richardson. No other Browns player in the passing game is worth a look yet, even in a favorable matchup like this, simply because the targets are not there on a consistent basis and there are much more attractive options out there.

Running Game Thoughts: The Cleveland offense may not always be pretty or high-powered, but Trent Richardson has become a reliable and consistent producer of yards and touchdowns. Richardson is nowhere near Adrian Peterson or Arian Fosters at this point, but for a rookie running back on a fairly bad team, he is certainly holding his own. Last week against the Raiders, Richardson ran the ball 20 times for 72 yards and a touchdown. Of course these aren’t earth-shattering numbers, but last week marked the seventh game that Richardson has found the end zone and the seventh game in which he has topped 70 yards on the ground. That makes him a reliable though not elite RB1 (especially factoring in his nearly 30 yards per game receiving). The best part about Richardson (for fantasy owners) is that he continues to be one of just a handful of backs in the league that play all three downs and rarely lose carries to their backups. Out of the Browns’ 302 rushing attempts, Richardson has run 229 of them, or 76 percent. Take away some random scrambles by quarterback Brandon Weeden plus the game Richardson got hurt in, and that number is probably closer to 90 percent, which rivals any back in the NFL. Sure, Richardson has yet to have that huge 200-plus-yard, three-touchdown game, but I’ll take steady production any day from a guy who many owners drafted as their second running back.

This week the news gets even better for Richardson, as he gets a Chiefs defense that currently ranks in the bottom 10 in rush defense and is one of the 10 most generous teams to fantasy running backs. An added benefit is that the Chiefs offense has struggled mightily this season and should struggle against a good Browns defense, meaning Richardson should be running through all four quarters and may even be killing the clock out near the end of the game. Because the volume of work he gets, you are probably not going to sit Richardson in any matchup. But in this one, you should have confidence that he will produce high-end RB1 numbers.

Brandon Weeden: 245 pass yds, 2 TDs, 1 INT
Josh Gordon: 80 rec yds, 1 TD
Ben Watson: 45 rec yds
Mohamed Massaquoi: 45 rec yds
Trent Richardson: 105 rush yds, 1 TD, 25 rec yds

Prediction: Browns 24, Chiefs 17 ^ Top

Bears @ Vikings - (Anderson)

Passing Game Thoughts: In his first meeting against the Vikings a few weeks back, Jay Cutler had a nice completion percentage (23-31) but settled for short passes and ended up with just 188 passing yards (1 TD, 1 INT). Although you might not guess it because of wide receiver Brandon Marshall’s spectacular season thus far, the Bears are actually statistically one of the five worst passing teams. Yardage-wise, they rank second to last in the league and sport a very pedestrian 16:13 TD-to-INT ratio. Of course, when you have an elite defense and a very strong run game, you don’t need to emphasize the pass as much (fourth least amount of passing attempts in NFL). But for Cutler owners (or owners of any Bears receiver other than Marshall), that is of little comfort. If you do own Marshall, however, you are consistently happy this season, as he makes up a huge percentage of the overall offense (44 percent of all Cutler’s attempts have gone to Marshall) and ranks among the top four WRs in receptions, yards, and touchdowns thus far. The only other news is the likely return of rookie wide receiver Alshon Jeffery, who missed the past few weeks with a knee injury and is likely to start opposite Marshall. While I like Jeffery’s talent and long-term potential, he should not be anywhere near a starting fantasy lineup this week, as he needs to prove he is healthy and part of the game plan again.

As for the Vikings pass defense, the matchup against the Bears a few weeks ago was actually their best game as far as fantasy points allowed, so that should be discouraging for the Bears passing crew. On the season, however, the Vikings are a below-average pass defense that is actually among the 12 easiest defenses for fantasy QBs to score against. While I believe Cutler and company’s passing numbers will be better than a few weeks ago, it is very hard to trust a passing offense on a team built around defense, time of possession, and running the football. This week I see Cutler as no better than a mid-range QB2 with little upside in an away game against a divisional rival. As for Marshall, the choice is easy:; you simply can’t sit him, regardless of matchup, thanks to Cutler’s forcing him the ball 12 to 20 times per game. He is an easy mid-range WR1 again this week. No other Bears passing game member is worth fantasy consideration, however.

Running Game Thoughts: As a top 10 rushing offense, the Bears have been helped by a defense that always keeps them in games and gives them great field position and the opportunity to run a conservative offense. While the team as a whole has been very successful running the ball, their lead back, Matt Forte, has fallen quite a ways short of being an elite fantasy RB this season, thanks in part to minor injuries, a split workload with Michael Bush, few touchdowns, and a drop-off in receptions compared to previous years. In the previous Vikings–Bears matchup, Forte did not even receive the bulk of the workload; carries, yards, and touchdowns favored Bush by a decent margin. This past week against the Seahawks, however, those numbers changed to favor Forte, making the whole situation very frustrating for fantasy owners.

As for the matchup itself, the Vikings are, on the season, average as a run-defending team, both in fantasy and in the NFL. The thing that does stand out to me upon closer look, however, is the big difference between the Vikings’ first six games and their past six. In the first six weeks, the run defense gave up just one touchdown and held opponents to 54 rushing yards per game. The past six games, however, they have let up six rushing touchdowns and a much worse 116 yards on the ground. Is the defense tiring out? Are offenses finding out and exposing their weaknesses? I’m not sure, but the numbers don’t lie, and I expect the trend to continue this week with an offense and two very capable backs in town to rack up the yardage. While a road rivalry game is not the ideal setting for a monster fantasy day, I still like Forte as a solid RB2 this week, even if he continues to lose touches to Bush. While Bush could steal a touchdown and rack up decent yards this week, he is still too inconsistent and risky to recommend as anything other than a low-end flex play.

Jay Cutler: 220 pass yds, 1 TD, 1 INT
Brandon Marshall: 95 rec yds, 1 TD
Alshon Jeffery: 40 rec yds
Matt Forte: 80 rush yds, 20 rec yds
Michael Bush: 25 rush yds, 1 TD

Passing Game Thoughts: Christian Ponder was never considered an elite talent at quarterback, but the way he has regressed this season must be very troubling for Vikings fans and anyone desperate enough to have him on their fantasy teams. Last week’s game against the Packers marked the sixth time this year that Ponder failed to reach 200 yards passing and the fourth game in which he has thrown two or more interceptions. In a word, the Vikings pass game is bad, and the hope of it progressing into anything half decent is slipping away quickly for a couple of reasons.

First, the Vikings best receiving threat and perhaps second best talent on the team (behind Adrian Peterson), Percy Harvin, is out again this week, and there is some concern he may not return this season at all. Second, besides tight end Kyle Rudolph, the Vikings do not have another receiver even close to being a consistent weapon in the passing game. Finally, the schedule is not favorable at all for the Vikings, and that starts with this week where they square off with one of this year’s elite passing defenses.

Currently the Bears rank in the top 10 in passing yards allowed, passing touchdowns allowed, sacks, interceptions, and opponent completion percentage. In other words, this defense is a nightmare for opposing quarterbacks, especially second-year, average-talented quarterbacks with limited weapons. For all you Ponder owners in fantasy, here is another thing to think about: the Bears rank among the five toughest teams for fantasy QBs to score against, and in their first matchup a few weeks back, Ponder was held to just 159 yards through the air. The only good news for Ponder and company is the loss of two Bears defensive starters, linebacker Brian Urlacher, the Bears leading tackler, and defensive back Tim Jennings, who is leading the NFL in interceptions. For a good quarterback, these losses might actually boost this matchup into being semi-favorable, but Ponder has failed against much worse defenses than the Bears, so Chicago’s loss of two players won’t make enough of an impact to boost Ponder into being anywhere near starter-worthy. The only possible passing game player I would consider this week would be Rudolph, who should get most of Ponder’s targets and will probably benefit from Urlacher sitting this game out.

Running Game Thoughts: Writing about the Vikings rushing attack is a lot like relying on day turning to night and back again; it’s predictable, reliable, and inevitable. For the Vikings, Adrian Peterson is just that. He produces at an elite level every week, regardless of who he faces. In a semi-tough matchup last week, Peterson ran over the Green Bay defense to the tune of 210 yards and a touchdown on 21 carries (10 ypc). Peterson continues to dominate on the ground and is on pace for his best season ever, even though defenses game plan for him and the lack of a consistent passing game put all the focus on him.

This week the Bears will be tasked with trying to stop AD, and although they rank among the best rushing defenses, Peterson has had success against them, as recently as a few weeks ago when he ran for 108 yards on just 18 carries—and that was in Chicago. While the Bears defense is not usually fantasy friendly for opposing RBs (they are among the four toughest on the year), they are certainly not impossible to produce against, as evidenced by Peterson a few weeks ago and Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch last week (87 yds, 1 TD). While Peterson is obviously a must-start no matter what, the news may actually be better this week if wide receiver Percy Harvin can get back and take a bit of the defensive pressure off the run game. Look, the bottom line is that it does not matter who the Vikings play and who else is around Peterson. He is a one-man wrecking crew and will, even on a bad day, produce better numbers than most other fantasy RBs. While this week’s matchup may mean Peterson won’t put up record numbers, he is still an undeniable top 5 option at RB.

Christian Ponder: 170 pass yds, 1 TD, 2 INTs
Kyle Rudolph: 50 rec yds, 1 TD
Jerome Simpson: 40 rec yds
Jarius Wright: 45 rec yds
Adrian Peterson: 95 rush yds, 1 TD, 15 rec yds

Prediction: Bears 23, Vikings 20 ^ Top

Chargers @ Steelers - (Anderson)

Passing Game Thoughts: The Chargers are in the midst of a brutal stretch of schedule right now, and it is getting worse with very few sign of hope on the horizon. Philip Rivers has had a few nice outings this season, but overall it has been a major disappointment for a quarterback who once was considered on the verge of being elite (in fantasy, as well). Against the Bengals last week, Rivers did throw for 280 yards, but he had no touchdowns and one pick while getting sacked four times. To make matters worse, he lost three offensive linemen during the game (all likely out this week), got virtually nothing from the run game, and lost a fumble. Surprisingly, despite Rivers’ below-average stats, the Chargers have managed to make a few receivers fantasy relevant, namely Danario Alexander and Malcom Floyd. Alexander has especially come on strong the past four games, totaling 23 catches, 406 yards and three touchdowns, making him a low-end WR1 the past month. Floyd, on the other hand, has not had as many big games but seems to be a consistent producer of 60 to 70 yards per game, making him a decent but low-end WR2 most weeks. Antonio Gates would have be mentioned first in previous years, but he has virtually disappeared this season, having only one game where he approached the numbers he used to put up on a consistent basis.

This week the matchup with the Steelers means all Chargers are downgraded, as Pittsburgh ranks among the top three passing defenses in all of football. In addition, they are equally as tough against fantasy skill-position players, currently among the three toughest for QBs, WRs, and TEs. The one bright spot for the Chargers, however, is that Steelers cornerback Ike Taylor, who has been one of the top corners in the league this season, will miss this game with an ankle injury. Even with Taylor missing from the lineup, Troy Polamalu is getting healthier and is sure to see an increase in playing time as he gets his legs back, and with the pass rush that Blitzburgh creates against an injured and overwhelmed San Diego offensive line (already giving up the fourth most sacks in league), let’s just say it might get ugly real fast. No way am I starting Rivers this week, as I expect multiple turnovers because of the pressure. And since he was not scoring touchdowns against lesser opponents, there is little reason to believe he will do it against an elite defense. As for the receiving corps, I would downgrade each player one level. For example, Alexander was playing at a low-level WR1 the past few weeks, but in this matchup I’d say he’s a low-level WR2, at best. Unless you are desperate and want to gamble on some garbage time yards or a Hail Mary, avoid the whole Chargers situation this week.

Running Game Thoughts: Going into this season many fantasy players had Ryan Matthews as a sure-fire top 10 RB because of his talent, the departure of Mike Tolbert, and a good quarterback to take a lot of the pressure off the run game. Fast forward to week 13 and Matthews has been pretty close to a bust, missing time because of injury, losing playing time to much less-talented backs, and totaling just one rushing touchdown all season. Versus the Bengals last week, Matthews continued to struggle, racking up just 26 yards on the ground, which extended his streak of less than 100 yards to 10 games in a row. After the game, the coaching staff put a lot of the blame on an offensive line riddled with injuries, which included losing three guys in that game alone. This week, the Chargers are expected to have only one healthy starting lineman returning and may actually need to start someone they sign off the street.

Obviously this is cause for major concern against any competition, but against the Steelers this could be an absolute nightmare. They not have only Polamalu back in the lineup, but they already rank among the top 5 rush defenses. In addition, the Steelers are one of the six toughest defenses for fantasy running backs to score against, and Pittsburgh is not very friendly to visiting teams. In other words, Matthews (and any other Chargers RB) could be in big trouble. While Matthews is tempting to start because of his high expectations and the handful of big games he’s had, along with the workload that he should be getting, the fact remains that he has struggled mightily this season and there is little reason to believe that this will be the game he turns it all around. For dynasty leaguers, Matthews may still be productive down the road, but with the offensive line issues, the current matchup, and the lack of production he’s shown this season, he should be firmly planted on your bench this week.

Philip Rivers: 185 pass yds, 1 TD, 2 INTs
Ryan Matthews: 35 rush yds, 20 rec yds
Danario Alexander: 55 rec yds
Malcom Floyd: 35 rec yds
Antonio Gates: 35 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: The big news this week with the Steelers is the likely return of Ben Roethlisberger, who has missed the previous three weeks with rib and shoulder injuries. In his absence, the Steelers passing game has suffered tremendously, with Byron Leftwich and Charlie Batch throwing five interceptions and just one touchdown. Even if Ben is less than 100 percent, he still greatly increases the upside of all the Steelers receivers—and the running game, too, as more defensive pressure will be focused on stopping the passing attack.

For Roethlisberger, this is a great week to be coming back, not only because it’s a home game, but because the matchup is a juicy one. The Chargers rank just below average in most major defensive passing categories, including yards allowed (21st), passing touchdowns allowed (21st), and completion percentage allowed (20th). In addition, they have had trouble pressuring the quarterback, racking up just 23 sacks (23rd). While the second half of the season has been better for their pass defense, they have still given up some huge yardage games through the air (370, 309, 355) and multiple games of two or more passing touchdown (3,2,4,3,2,3). So, while Roethlisberger and company might need to knock a little rust off and play a tad more conservatively, the prospects for having a huge game are certainly there, with Big Ben itching to get back in. I like Roethlisberger as a high-end QB2 who should be a fairly safe bet for 200-plus yards and two or more touchdowns. As for the receiving corps, they all look to be relatively healthy, and while none have dominated consistently this year, I could see both Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown as viable WR2 options in this week’s matchup. In addition, Emmanuel Sanders might be a low-end WR3 if you are really scouring the barrel, and Heath Miller should retain some decent value as a mid-range TE2. As long as Big Ben does not have any setbacks before Sunday, get your Steelers in your starting lineup.

Running Game Thoughts: It’s been a long strange trip this year for the Steelers running attack, as they have gone from bad to good and have shuffled running backs in and out (due to both injury and performance) on an almost weekly basis, with the Week 1 starter Rashard Mendenhall actually being a healthy scratch this past week as he fell behind starter (and one time third-stringer) Jonathan Dwyer and backup Isaac Redman. Barring a setback, the apparent return of Roethlisberger should really help the run game, which has struggled without the threat of a real passing game the past few weeks. Their worst performance of the year came two weeks ago with Charlie Batch under center, when the run game produced just 49 yards and four fumbles. While it is possible that coach Mike Tomlin could switch things up during the game, he has publicly stated that Dwyer will remain the starter and see the bulk of the carries this week, the same promise he made and kept last week against Baltimore.

The Chargers run defense, meanwhile, has actually been quite good, ranking among the top 10 in rushing yards, rushing touchdowns, and rushing yards per attempt allowed. Not surprisingly, this has translated to their being an above-average defense against fantasy RBs as well. It is a bit of a risky proposition to start Dwyer this week as anything more than a very low-end RB2. While I like the fact that Big Ben should open things up for the run game, and Dwyer should get the bulk of the carries, I can’t help but worry that Tomlin may mix in other backs more frequently this week, and may even go a bit more pass-heavy because of the defensive matchup. If Dwyer was a better talent, I would feel much safer here, but he is simply not. So while I believe he is safe for a decent amount of fantasy points, don’t expect anywhere near a team-carrying performance this week.

Ben Roethlisberger: 280 pass yds, 2 TDs, 1 INT
Mike Wallace: 70 rec yds, 1 TD
Antonio Brown: 70 rec yds
Heath Miller: 40 rec yds, 1 TD
Jonathan Dwyer: 50 rush yds, 1 TD

Prediction: Steelers 26, Chargers 20 ^ Top

Lions @ Packers - (Anderson)

Passing Game Thoughts: Their win–loss record doesn't show it, but the Lions passing game remains an elite unit and, consequently, fantasy owners have been quite happy most weeks if they own Matthew Stafford or Calvin Johnson. Last week against the Colts, the dynamic duo once again showed off their stuff, with Stafford throwing for 313 yards and two touchdowns (1 INT) and Johnson hauling in 13 balls for 171 yards and a touchdown. After a bit of a slow start touchdown-wise, Johnson has a touchdown catch in each of the past four games, to go along with his league-leading 1,428 receiving yards. The only real disappointment right now is the failure of a second legitimate receiving threat to emerge opposite Johnson. At the start of the year, many thought Titus Young would be that guy, but he was very inconsistent and has now been shut down for the rest of the year for disciplinary reasons (although the team put him on the IR). In addition, Ryan Broyles is now also out for the year with a torn ACL, so Mike Thomas will be the next man up to attempt to produce as the team’s No. 2 wide receiver.

Trying to slow down the Lions passing attack this week, the Packers rank right around the middle of the NFL in most defensive pass categories, though they are stronger in opponent’s completion percentage allowed (3rd best in NFL) and sacks (4th best). In their first meeting this year, played in Detroit, Stafford actually had one of his worst days of the season, throwing for just 266 yards and one touchdown with a lost fumble and two interceptions. Johnson, on the other hand, dominated the Packers, catching five balls for 143 yards and a touchdown. In that game, the amount of pressure put on Stafford was the difference, as he was sacked five times (he's been sacked just 25 times on the season) and hit a bunch more, causing some turnovers and inaccurate throws. In a home game for the Packers, I look for that pressure to intensify, and Stafford may once again turn the ball over multiple times while running for his life. Even with a less than ideal matchup, the amount of attempts he makes and the fact that he has the league’s best wide receiver helping him vaults Stafford into the lower tier of QB1s. So unless you have another top 10 option on your team, Stafford should used. He'll get you some good yardage numbers, even if a bunch come in garbage time. As for Johnson, you know the deal. Start him. Now, next week, next year, every year, every game, and don’t look back, as he should once again put up safe WR1 numbers. The only other guy I would consider starting is tight end Brandon Pettigrew, as he continues to get a bunch of catches, even though the yardage and touchdown numbers aren’t quite there. He’s a low-end TE2 in standard leagues but gets a boost to a low-end TE1 in PPR leagues.

Running Game Thoughts: Despite being a very pass-oriented offense, a lot of the Lions scoring has surprisingly come from the run game, namely Mikel Leshoure. After last week’s game, Leshoure now has seven touchdowns on the season, which is actually two more than Calvin Johnson, despite the fact that Johnson played in two more games and is one of the most targeted players in all of football. While Leshoure does not provide a ton of yardage on the ground (he averages just under 60 yards per game), his scoring ability and guaranteed touches have made him creep up into that mid-range level of consistent RB2s. Leshoure’s backup, Joique Bell, has been very up-and-down but had another nice contribution last week, rushing for 81 yards on just seven carries. While Bell remains one of the better stash players as a handcuff, he is still way to inconsistent to play in fantasy lineups outside of very deep PPR leagues.

This week Leshoure faces a Green Bay defense that ranks a bit tougher than his opponent last week (IND) and always plays the Lions tough. And in a game at Lambeau field, you can bet the Lions will be challenged to earn every yard they go for. While I would not expect a huge game from Leshoure (84 yds, 1 TD in his last meeting with Green Bay), the Packers are coming off their two worst rushing defense performances of the year, giving up 135 yards and two touchdowns to the Giants and then an amazing 240 yards and a touchdown to the Minnesota Petersons...I mean Vikings. Perhaps the Lions can check out the game tape and see where the holes in the run defense are, although Leshoure is nowhere near as talented as Peterson, or even Ahmad Bradshaw for that matter. The most likely scenario this week is that the Lions pass a lot again and that Leshoure is brought in near the goal line and the occasional handoff between the 20s. While his upside is limited by a pass-heavy game plan, a lack of big play ability, and often getting pulled on third down, Leshoure has his appeal and should be a safe yet unexciting mid-range RB2 this week.

Matthew Stafford: 280 pass yds, 2 TDs, 1 INT
Calvin Johnson: 100 rec yds, 1 TD
Brandon Pettigrew: 45 rec yds
Mike Thomas: 50 rec yds
Mikel Leshoure: 70 rush yds, 1 TD, 10 rec yds
Joique Bell: 30 rush yds, 30 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: As one of the elite passing teams in the NFL, the Packers are a virtual buffet for fantasy owners, with quarterback Aaron Rodgers, wide receivers Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson, James Jones, Randall Cobb, and tight end Jermichael Finley all being viable starting options at certain points during this season. The only issue has been picking the guy, or guys, that get the most work each week, as any of the receivers could put up a huge or a very average game at any given point. With Nelson most likely out this week, the targets will be more concentrated; however, who will be the biggest benefactor remains to be seen. What we do know is that the Packers throw a lot and score a lot (30 passing TDs) and do it pretty efficiently (67.2 completion percentage, just 8 INTs). This obviously make Rodgers a stud fantasy QB, and this week’s matchup won't change that, especially in a home game for the Pack. The Detroit passing defense isn’t anywhere near the worst in the league, but they don’t do anything particularly outstanding either, ranking right about the middle in most major defensive passing stats. In their first meeting this year, Rodgers actually had a very pedestrian day, throwing for 236 yards, two touchdowns and one interception, a below-average game by his standards but still not that bad for most fantasy QBs. That game was in Detroit, however, and their most talented wide receiver perhaps, Greg Jennings, was still out of the lineup.

This week, with a very banged up backfield, I expect the Packers to throw as much as they have all season, especially since the Lions have the firepower to turn this into a shootout. If this scenario plays out, multiple Green Bay receivers could go off for big games. And Rodgers will once again be a top 5 option at QB. I would rank the receivers in this order this week: Cobb (getting a ton of catches), Jennings (having shaken the rust off), Finley (heating up as of late), and Jones (with reliable hands but less targets lately), although each could put up enough stats to make them flex-worthy starts. While it is not a dream matchup by any means, a high-scoring affair could certainly be in the works, making the weapon of choice the passing game for the Packers.

Running Game Thoughts: The big news this week is that running back James Starks is out multiple weeks with a knee injury, leaving Alex Green to carry the load this week. The Packers did re-sign Ryan Grant as well, but he is sure to be rusty and, with the lack of interest teams had in him, must have lost a step or two from what was a productive two-year run a couple of years back. While an injury to a starting running back usually means some opportunity in the fantasy world, the Packers run game has been so ineffective that this is really not much news at all. They currently rank 20th in the league in rushing yards and are tied for last in rushing touchdowns. Not coincidentally, no Packers running back has been no more than a low-end RB3 on a consistent or per-game basis . While Green should see at least 12 carries this game, he remains a risky start for a couple of reasons. First, he was not that good when given the chance to start earlier in the season, losing the job to Starks when he returned from injury. Second, the Packers are going to throw it, and with a banged-up backfield they may even throw it more than normal.

Also, the Lions are actually pretty decent against the run, as far as fantasy goes, as they have been the ninth toughest team for running backs to score against this season. Putting Green into your starting lineup is only a smart move if you want a few guaranteed points, as he is pretty much the only Packers running back that is guaranteed to touch the ball multiple times. Because the ceiling on Green is so low this week, I cannot recommend starting him as anything more than a high-end RB3, or very low-end RB2 at best.

Aaron Rodgers: 305 pass yds, 3 TDs, 1 INT
Randall Cobb: 70 rec yds
Greg Jennings: 55 rec yds, 1 TD
Jermichael Finley: 55 rec yds
James Jones: 50 rec yds
Alex Green: 50 rush yds, 10 rec yds

Prediction: Packers 34, Lions 30 ^ Top

Rams @ Bills - (Marcoccio)

Passing Game Thoughts: Sam Bradford has been solid, if unspectacular, this season. He’s a fairly decent option as a QB2 but likely doesn’t receive much starting lineup consideration outside of bye weeks. Head coach Jeff Fischer would prefer to win with a solid running game and strong defense instead of a wide-open aerial attack, but Bradford does average a more-than-respectable 32 passing attempts per game. Danny Amendola, when healthy, is clearly Bradford’s preferred target, but health has been an issue for him, and the foot injury that kept him out of last week’s contest could cause him to miss this week as well. Rookie wide receiver Chris Givens has been very dependable, especially during the weeks that Amendola has missed. Givens has surpassed 100 receiving yards each of the last two weeks and should garner WR2 or WR3 consideration in some leagues this week if Amendola is out again.

The Bills have improved their pass defense, statistically, since last season, allowing only 229.3 passing yards per game, but they have allowed 21 passing touchdowns, which means fantasy production is possible when your players have the Bills on their schedule. Mario Williams started the season slowly while dealing with a hand injury, but he now has 9.5 sacks, helping to put the Bills in the top 10 in quarterback sacks.

Running Game Thoughts: Fantasy owners always seem quick to throw dirt on Steven Jackson, but even at age 29 he seems to have gotten stronger as the season moves forward. Early in the year, rookie Daryl Richardson was practically splitting carries with Jackson at times, which perhaps kept the veteran fresh. But in recent weeks, Jackson has returned to his role as a workhorse. On a disappointing note, Jackson seldom finds the end zone (only 2 TDs on the season), but he has rushed for 369 yards over the last four weeks, so owners should feel safe putting him in their lineups and hoping for the occasional touchdown.

Sam Bradford: 225 pass yds 2 TDs, 1 INT
Chris Givens: 85 rec yds, 1 TD
Brandon Gibson: 40 rec yds
Lance Kendricks: 45 rec yds, 1 TD
Steven Jackson: 95 rush yds / 10 rec yds
Daryl Richardson: 30 rush yds / 35 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: Based on comments from general manager Buddy Nix, it seems Ryan Fitzpatrick may be auditioning for a job elsewhere next season over the last quarter of this one. He didn’t do himself any favors last week in a win over Jacksonville, despite throwing for two touchdowns and running one in on the ground. He completed only 9 of 17 passes, however, for just 112 yards. Stevie Johnson was banged up during the game and the weather was poor, so perhaps Fitzpatrick deserves a break, but the reality is that he is a below-average starting quarterback. There’s little reason to start him on your fantasy squad, either, outside of perhaps two-QB leagues.

Fitzpatrick will have a difficult time against a good Rams pass defense. St. Louis features two excellent corners in Cortland Finnegan and rookie Janoris Jenkins and has allowed only 226.3 passing yards per game while giving up only 13 passing touchdowns on the season.

Running Game Thoughts: Prior to last week’s game, the Bills announced that they would feature the dynamic C.J. Spiller as the lead back in the RBBC with veteran Fred Jackson. Coach Gailey said going forward the snaps will be in the 60 percent range in favor of Spiller while Jackson sees time in short-yardage and passing situations. However, while protecting the lead in heavy rain in Week 13, it was Jackson who dominated carries in the second half and who finished with over 20 carries and more than 100 yards rushing. Jackson is more of a grinder at this stage of his career, but he can still get the job done. The Bills O-line, which was once a disaster, has developed into a very solid unit and can support two successful backs for fantasy purposes, especially with Jackson seeing goal-line carries and Spiller being a big-play threat on every touch.

Ryan Fitzpatrick: 215 pass yds 1 TD, 1 INT / 35 rush yds
Steve Johnson: 45 rec yds, 1 TD
T.J. Graham: 35 rec yds
Scott Chandler: 25 rec yds
Fred Jackson: 55 rush yds, 1 TD / 15 rec yds
C.J. Spiller: 115 rush yds, 1 TD / 35 rec yds

Prediction: Bills 24, Rams 20 ^ Top

Ravens @ Redskins - (Marcoccio)

Passing Game Thoughts: Joe Flacco declared himself a top 5 quarterback during the preseason. Turns out he was wrong and is what we thought he was all along, an average quarterback that wins games due to the strength of the team around him. From a fantasy perspective, he’s average at best as well. He’ll have some nice weeks with the weapons at his disposal—Anquan Boldin, Torrey Smith, and Ray Rice out of the backfield—but he’s terribly inconsistent because he's seemingly always looking for big plays downfield. When they hit, he can have a monster day; when they don’t, he may be below average. Boldin doesn’t look the same as he did in his heyday, but he’s still a big dependable target that can use his size and strength to shield off defenders. Unfortunately, his once-famous run-after-catch ability is no longer there. Smith is one of the best deep threats in the league, but he has not rounded out his game enough to make him useful when the big plays are connecting. The biggest weapon for this team is Rice, arguably even when we’re talking about the passing game.

Washington’s pass defense is giving up 309.4 passing yards per game and has allowed a whopping 24 touchdown passes on the season, so this could be one of those “up” weeks for Flacco and the passing game.

Running Game Thoughts: The Ravens have a strange tendency to move away from Rice and the running game despite the former Rutgers star clearly being the team’s most dangerous player. Last week Rice saw no carries during the fourth quarter, after averaging 6.5 yards per carry and putting the Ravens ahead 20–13 on a 34-yard touchdown run. That, unfortunately for Rice owners, is not an uncommon occurrence. Usually after one of these weeks, however, the Ravens get shamed into giving him a bigger workload the following week.

Washington provides a difficult matchup as a top 5 run defense allowing only 91 rushing yards per game and only seven rushing touchdowns on the season. That should provide Cam Cameron with all the incentive he needs to abandon the run.

Joe Flacco: 285 yds passing 2 TDs
Anquan Boldin: 65 rec yds
Torrey Smith: 75 rec yds, 1 TD
Jacoby Jones: 40 rec yds, 1 TD
Dennis Pitta: 35 rec yds
Ray Rice: 85 rush yds, 1 TD / 35 rec yds
Bernard Pierce: 20 yards rushing

Passing Game Thoughts: Robert Griffin III is having an outstanding rookie campaign and is coming off a big win over division rival New York, where he threw the game-winning touchdown to Pierre Garcon. Garcon has finally moved past the pain in his foot and showed the last two weeks that he’ll be Griffin’s go-to guy whenever he is healthy. Garcon is a large target with nice downfield speed and has great chemistry with Griffin despite his limited game time this season. No other Washington pass catcher can be started with confidence, as Griffin spreads the ball around among Aldrick Robinson, Santana Moss, Leonard Hankerson, and Logan Paulsen when he’s not looking to Garcon.

The Ravens' once-feared defense has gone downhill due to age and injuries, so far as making washed-up, 37-year-old Charlie Batch look good last week. This is another opportunity for Griffin to make a statement against a local rival with his team on a roll.

Running Game Thoughts: Rookie running back Alfred Morris keeps rolling along in his role as a feature back and has now gained 1,106 yards while scoring six touchdowns on the ground. His one-cut-and-go running style makes him a good fit for the Shanahan zone blocking scheme, but he has also shown the ability to move the pile and break tackles when the hole isn’t there. Morris, much to the Shanny haters' surprise, has remained one of the true feature backs left in the league, and there seems to be extremely little chance of that changing anytime soon.
The Ravens run defense hasn’t been much better than the pass defense. On the season, Baltimore has allowed 125.8 yards per game and 11 touchdowns on the ground.

Robert Griffin III: 245 pass yds 2 TDs / 75 rush yds
Leonard Hankerson: 20 rec yds
Pierre Garcon: 80 rec yds, 1 TD
Santana Moss: 25 rec yds
Logan Paulsen: 35 rec yds, 1 TD
Alfred Morris: 85 rush yds, 1 TD / 5 rec yds

Prediction: Ravens 27, Redskins 24 ^ Top

Saints @ Giants - (Marcoccio)

Passing Game Thoughts: Drew Brees is coming off his worst game as a professional and will have had 10 days to stew over his five-interception effort when he faces the Giants in New Jersey on Sunday. Expect a big game from him and in turn Jimmy Graham, Marques Colston, and perhaps Lance Moore. Graham is still Brees’ top target in this offense, but an ankle injury has slowed him down a bit and thus his numbers are not nearly as impressive as those of his 2011 campaign. Colston has consistently been a productive member of this passing attack and is probably one of the most under-rated wide receivers in the league. Moore is sure-handed and a nice route runner who may not even garner fantasy consideration if he were lining up in an offense outside of New Orleans. Fantasy owners don’t need to concern themselves with “what ifs” though, as most weeks they can just reap the benefits that come with owning a Drew Brees target.

The Giants secondary has looked terrible at times and could be in big trouble this week with Brees and his buddies looking to exploit its holes. The Giants allow 245.2 yards per game and have given up 19 passing touchdowns on the season. The pass rush, while still formidable, hasn’t been as prolific as it was in past seasons—but they better be up to the task this week. If they can't put pressure on Brees, they could be in danger of giving up their diminishing lead in the NFC East.

Running Game Thoughts: The Saints do all of their backs a disservice by not allowing any of them enough carries to get into the flow of the game. While Darren Sproles has a clearly defined role as a pass catcher, any of Mark Ingram, Pierre Thomas, or Chris Ivory could rack up nice yardage totals if they were allowed to be “the man.” I don’t expect the Saint coaching staff to care about the fantasy ramifications of their RBBC, but from a real football perspective, it just seems to limit the overall effectiveness of the running game, especially when it becomes obvious that the Saints will be running when either Ivory or Ingram are in the backfield. From a fantasy perspective, unless one or more of the backs are known to be out, only Sproles (in PPR leagues) can be counted on consistently.

The Giants run defense has been a little below average statistically, allowing 121.8 yards per game, but they have limited opponents to only six rushing touchdowns on the ground. Last week’s game against the Redskins, where they allowed rookie Alfred Morris to run for 124 yards and rookie quarterback RGIII to dominate on the ground, caused the Giants' average yards per game to jump up seven yards from where it was the week before. So perhaps the run defense is not actually as bad as it currently looks on paper.

Drew Brees: 325 pass yds 3 TDs, 1 INT
Marques Colston: 85 rec yds, 1 TD
Devery Henderson: 40 rec yds
Lance Moore: 75 rec yds, 1 TD
Jimmy Graham: 95 rec yds, 1 TD
Pierre Thomas: 45 rush yds / 15 rec yds
Darren Sproles: 10 rush yds / 65 rec yds
Mark Ingram: 25 rush yds, 1 TD / 5 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: Hakeem Nicks hasn’t been at full strength all season, and the Giants passing game has not been consistent as a result. Nicks has had some difficulties getting separation due to lack of explosiveness, and without his opening things up fully, Victor Cruz has had some issues as well. That’s not to say that either pass catcher or Eli Manning have been completely useless, but none of the trio have been slam dunk studs on the consistent basis that they were last season.

The New Orleans pass defense, or lack thereof, should get the Giant passing attack back on track. On the season, the Saints have allowed 286.7 passing yards per game and have yielded 23 passing touchdowns. The Giants passing attack will need to be effective to keep up with New Orleans' potentially explosive offense, and the odds are that it will.

Running Game Thoughts: Ahmad Bradshaw was a workhorse in Andre Brown’s absence last week, a trend that will likely continue until rookie David Wilson completely earns the New York coaching staff’s full trust. Bradshaw saw over 20 touches for the first time since early in the season and came through unscathed, racking up over 100 yards. In a really juicy matchup against the league’s worst run defense, Bradshaw has an opportunity to put up a monster game.

Eli Manning: 315 yds passing 2 TDs
Hakeem Nicks: 65 rec yds, 1 TD
Victor Cruz: 85 rec yds, 1 TD
Rueben Randle: 30 rec yds
Martellus Bennett: 55 rec yds
Ahmad Bradshaw: 95 rush yds, 2 TDs / 20 rec yds
David Wilson: 40 yards rushing

Prediction: Giants 34, Saints 31 ^ Top

Dolphins @ 49ers - (Caron)

Passing Game Thoughts: Sometimes as NFL fans we get spoiled by the success of certain players and begin to expect that kind of production out of other players. Not every rookie quarterback can be Andrew Luck or Robert Griffin III. Ryan Tannehill has not yet broken out like the No. 1 and No. 2 picks, but the talent is certainly there. Unfortunately, given the complete lack of explosive players on the roster, his fantasy value has been lackluster. Sure, Brian Hartline and even Davone Bess have had their moments, but they essentially fulfill the same role in the Dolphins’ offense as possession receivers who lack the explosive ability to make use of Tannehill’s arm strength. Of course, it’d help if he were a little more accurate with his throws when his receivers do break past the secondary.

In Week 14, Tannehill and the Dolphins will head to San Francisco where they will face perhaps the best defense in the league. The 49ers have allowed just 12 passing touchdowns against them on the year and have held opposing QB’s out of the end zone in five games this season. They’ll look to make it six against Ryan Tannehill who hasn’t thrown for multiple touchdowns since Week 6. There may be better days ahead for this offense but for now Tannehill’s three passing touchdowns over his past six games, combined with the 49ers defense, make him a questionable starter even in leagues with two starting QBs.

Running Game Thoughts: As has been the story through much of his career, Reggie Bush has gone through plenty of ups and downs this season. Most recently, Bush has actually been decently productive, rushing for a combined 151 yards and a touchdown against two of the league’s better run defenses, New England and Seattle. It appeared for a couple weeks as if second-year back Daniel Thomas may take over the starting job, but his mediocre performances haven’t exactly inspired the coaching staff to give him a heavier workload. For now, Bush appears to be at least a 60-40 leader for touches in the Miami offense, though that could change if he gets a case of the fumbles again. The most unfortunate thing for fantasy owners has been that Bush’s contributions in the passing game have become almost a non-factor. He once led the league in receptions as a running back but has caught just 24 passes this season.

Though we’ve been a bit more inspired by Reggie Bush over the past two weeks, that doesn’t mean that fantasy owners should feel particularly confident placing him in their lineup in Week 14 against the 49ers. As they did in 2011, San Francisco boasts the league’s most stingy run defense, having allowed just two rushing touchdowns against them all season. While they had a momentary slip up against the Rams, San Francisco has bounced back, holding the Bears and Saints to under 75 rushing yards before getting revenge on the Rams by holding them to just 2.25 yards per carry in Week 13. With Reggie Bush and Daniel Thomas still splitting much of the carries, there isn’t enough yardage to go around to make either of them particularly exciting for fantasy owners in Week 14.

Ryan Tannehill: 180 pass yds, 0 TD, 1 INT
Brian Hartline: 60 rec yds
Davone Bess: 40 rec yds
Reggie Bush: 50 rush yds, 15 rec yds
Daniel Thomas: 25 rush yds, 1 TD, 10 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: He has been one of the hottest names in fantasy football over the past few weeks and rightfully so. San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick has now hit 14 or more fantasy points in four straight games, giving him surprising consistency through his first few starts. What his fantasy scores alone don’t tell, though, is that Kaepernick struggled with his accuracy in Week 13 against the Rams, throwing for just 208 yards on the day. In fact, he did not get into the end zone as a passer or a runner last week, which meant his long 50-yard run saved his fantasy day from being pretty miserable. If Kaepernick can utilize his legs to move the ball for even 50 yards per game, he becomes almost a lock to be a top-10 producer at the position each week. In three and 1/2 games as a starter, Kaepernick is averaging 46 yards rushing per game.

In Week 14, Kaepernick will be up against a Miami Dolphins defense that held Tom Brady to just 238 yards and one touchdown just a week ago. In fact, Miami’s pass defense has been fairly strong through most of the season, having only allowed more than two passing touchdowns against them in one game. One thing they haven’t been challenged by yet, is a mobile quarterback. Kaepernick brings a unique set of skills that is perfect for wearing down defenses over the course of the game, which often leads to success late. Kaepernick got things going for the first time last week with Michael Crabtree, completing seven passes for 101 yards to the 49ers’ top target, but a shoulder injury looks like it might prevent his other favorite target, Mario Manningham, from taking the field this week. Vernon Davis continues to be a non-factor with the new QB behind center and he has now gone for 30 or fewer yards in three of Kaepernick’s four games.

Running Game Thoughts: The new quarterback situation hasn’t bothered Frank Gore as the 49ers tailback continues to provide fantasy owners with a steady dose of points. Gore has now produced double-digit scores (standard scoring) in nine games, making him a top-10 back and providing the kind of consistency that is very hard to come by in the age of the “running back by committee.” Even though he rushed for under 3.0 yards per carry this past week against the Rams, Gore got into the end zone from a yard out, cementing his place as the 49ers’ goal line back even with Colin Kaepernick on the roster.

Gore’s chances of another good fantasy day seem solid this week as he goes up against the Miami Dolphins run defense that has allowed double-digit fantasy points to every backfield it has faced since Week 6. Even though they’ve only allowed four rushing touchdowns on the year, Miami has only held an opposing team to under 90 yards rushing once over their past seven games. Considering the rate that the 49ers run the ball, another 90+ yard day on the ground seems likely and it should be expected that Gore gets the vast majority of that production. If he can contribute a bit in the passing game as he has throughout the year, he should go over the century mark again in total yardage, making him a fine start even if he doesn’t get into the end zone this week.

Colin Kaepernick: 170 pass yds, 1 TD, 1 INT, 50 rush yds, 1 TD
Michael Crabtree: 70 rec yds, 1 TD
Vernon Davis: 30 rec yds
Frank Gore: 90 rushing yds, 1 TD, 20 rec yds

Prediction: 49ers 24, Dolphins 13 ^ Top

Cardinals @ Seahawks - (Caron)

Passing Game Thoughts: There might not be a worse quarterback situation in the NFL than what is happening in Arizona. After losing his job in the preseason to John Skelton, Kevin Kolb took over in Week 1 when Skelton went down with an injury. He went on to have a handful of surprisingly good games before himself being injured, forcing the Cardinals to turn back to Skelton. When Skelton failed to produce, Arizona turned to late-round rookie quarterback Ryan Lindley. Lindley turned the ball over six times in his three games behind center without throwing a single touchdown pass. With Kolb still nursing sore ribs, Arizona has reportedly turned back to John Skelton who will start in Week 14. Needless to say, things haven’t been good for any of these quarterbacks, but it has been wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald whose fantasy value has really been affected the most. Fitzgerald has scored just one touchdown in his past six games and has just one 100-yard game on the year.

It won’t get any easier for Arizona in Week 14 as they head to one of the loudest stadiums in the league and go up against one of the toughest secondaries as well. The Seahawks defense has allowed only three quarterbacks to throw for more than one touchdown against them while holding five opposing quarterbacks without a single touchdown. Given their enormous cornerbacks, Larry Fitzgerald will not have the massive size advantage that he typically does, which makes him even a worse play than he has been in recent weeks. The Arizona passing game is a complete trainwreck but if you’re desperate, Andre Roberts might be a consideration. He did score against the Seahawks when these teams played in Week 1, but that was with Kevin Kolb at quarterback. Also, if you do consider Roberts, make sure that he’s ready to play as his status for Sunday’s game has not yet been finalized after missing Week 13 with an ankle injury.

Running Game Thoughts: Fantasy owners were a bit spoiled in Week 12 when Beanie Wells returned from a long layoff due to injury by rushing for two touchdowns. Wells got back to being his usual self last week, when he rushed for just 22 yards on 15 carries without a score. Wells has rarely been a game-changer throughout his NFL career and given the struggles that this offense has had all season, it doesn’t appear that he’s suddenly going to turn into a fantasy stud. Still, with no other running back on the roster touching the ball with any sort of frequency, Wells could be in for a decent number of carries should the Cardinals stay close.

If Wells is going to break out again, it won’t likely be this week against the stingy Seattle Seahawks defense. Seattle ranks seventh-best in the league against opposing running backs this season, having completely dominated opposing running backs through the first half of the season. If there is some hope, it’s that Seattle hasn’t been nearly as good against the run as of late. Since Week 7, they’ve allowed an average of 124.5 rushing yards per game against. Of course, they’ve gone against some of the league’s most dominant rushing attacks including San Francisco and Minnesota during that span, but an optimist would say that Beanie Wells might be the Cardinals’ best chance of moving the ball in Week 14. Given Wells’ 2.0 yards per carry from these teams’ first matchup in 2012, those chances still might be slim, but hey - it’s something.

John Skelton: 160 pass yds, 1 INT
Larry Fitzgerald: 50 rec yds
Andre Roberts: 45 rec yds
Rob Housler: 30 rec yds
Beanie Wells: 65 rush yds, 1 TD

Passing Game Thoughts: Robert Griffin III and Andrew Luck get all the love from the media, but the biggest surprise at the quarterback position in 2012 might just be Seattle Seahawks QB Russell Wilson. Wilson started the season off very slow in fantasy production but has been quietly very good through the second half of the year. Since Week 8, Wilson has thrown multiple touchdowns in each of his five games while throwing a total of just one interception. It’s not always pretty, but Wilson’s statistics, at least since Week 8, have been on par with just about any quarterback in the league. The biggest beneficiaries from Wilson’s improvements have been wide receivers Sidney Rice and Golden Tate. In their past five games, Rice and Tate have combined for nine touchdowns and although neither player has gone over 100 yards in any game this season, both men have become fantasy relevant.

If you were to name the five best secondaries in the NFL off the top of your head, the Arizona Cardinals aren’t likely to make that list. However that’s exactly where they’ve been, at least when it comes to points allowed to opposing quarterbacks. Arizona currently sits No. 3 in that category, having allowed only 10.6 points per game to opposing QB’s on the season. One of the biggest reasons for their stunning turnaround has been the team’s ability to force turnovers. Including the five picks they stole from Matt Ryan, Arizona has now forced nine interceptions in just their past three games while allowing only three touchdown passes against. Russell Wilson has been red hot lately, but in a game that the Seahawks are expected to win fairly comfortably, he may not be airing the ball out often enough to make him a top-12 option as a fantasy QB this week.

Running Game Thoughts: Although he hasn’t had any game that makes you really say, “wow,” Marshawn Lynch may be the single most consistent fantasy running back outside of Arian Foster. Lynch has averaged nearly 100 yards on the ground per game which has included six rushing touchdowns and six games where he has gone over that century mark. Although his value is negatively affected in PPR leagues, Lynch is currently the sixth-highest scoring running back in standard scoring leagues and has shown no signs of slowing down. With Seattle still looking to make a playoff run, look for them to continue to feed the ball to their most talented offensive player more and more. With Russell Wilson playing better by the week, Lynch’s opportunities to get into the endzone should continue to get more frequent as well.

Arizona has allowed 341 yards rushing over their past two games and against two not-so-elite running games in the Jets and Rams. If Lynch is given 25 carries as most believe he will, this could end up being Lynch’s first true “beast mode” game of the 2012 season. Lynch ran for 85 yards in his Week 1 game against the Cardinals and should be able to continue his second-straight season as a top-10 running back by getting to the 100-yard mark on Sunday. If the Cardinals can’t start to create some disruptions in the backfield to complement their play in the secondary, the Seahawks will be content with running the ball all over them.

Russell Wilson: 170 pass yds, 1 TD, 1 INT, 35 rush yds
Golden Tate: 55 rec yds, 1 TD
Sidney Rice: 50 rec yds
Marshawn Lynch: 110 rushing yds, 2 TD

Prediction: Seahawks 21, Cardinals 10 ^ Top

Texans @ Patriots - (Marcoccio)

Passing Game Thoughts: While Matt Schaub may be one of the more under-rated QBs in the league in “real” football, he may be slightly over-rated in fantasy football. The problem lies in the Texans run-first approach to offense. The Texans lead the league is rushing attempts with 413 and are about mid-pack in passing attempts with 418. Andre Johnson is enjoying a healthy season and recently set a record for most receiving yards in a two game stretch, so it’s not all bad. Outside of Johnson only TE Owen Daniels offers fantasy owners anything to be interested in. Daniels was a forgotten man in fantasy circles this offseason, but with a 50-598-6 stat-line he’s been a more than adequate TE1 option. Expect Johnson and Daniels to perform on the Monday Night stage and Schaub could be an option in a game where he may be needed to keep up with the Patriots’ offense.

The Patriots’ pass defense is starting to show some signs of improving after a horrible start to the 2012 season that followed a 2011 season where the team was one of the worst in the league. The team brought in Aquib Talib in a trade with the Buccaneers and the troubled CB has helped improve the pass defense a bit. Still, the Patriots present a favorable matchup against opposing passing teams and this game is likely to be a high scoring affair.

Running Game Thoughts: Arian Foster’s decline in per play production (career low 3.9 ypc) has been masked by his heavy volume in carries (283) and his always-present nose for the endzone. Of course his fantasy owners aren’t too upset with his 1,239 total yards and 15 TDs with a quarter of the season still to play. Houston did lose some key linemen prior to the season and perhaps the heavy workload these past couple of seasons is catching up with him causing his subpar ypc, but there’s no need to panic as he can carry the Texans and your fantasy team. Ben Tate returned from injury last week and could be worked in down the stretch to help keep Foster fresh. Tate offers much more than Justin Forsett who was backing up Foster in Tate’s absence, so it could be a little easier for Gary Kubiak to keep Foster on the sideline during the fantasy playoffs.

The Patriots’ run defense is allowing only 100.8 ypg on the ground and just 8 rushing TDs on the season – another reason why the Texans’ passing game may take the front seat this week.

Matt Schaub: 295 pass yds 2 TDs / 15 rush yds
Kevin Walter: 35 rec yds
Andre Johnson: 70 rec yds, 1 TD
James Casey: 35 rec yds
Owen Daniels: 80 rec yds, 1 TD
Arian Foster: 90 rush yds, 1 TD / 35 yds receiving
Ben Tate: 35 rush yds / 5 yds receiving

Passing Game Thoughts: Tom Brady still has more weapons at his disposal in Aaron Hernandez, Wes Welker and Brandon Lloyd than many other QBs in the league, despite missing his favorite target in Rob Gronkowski whose return is still at least a week or two away. Brady has been sharp, but with the Patriots finally fielding a more balanced attack, his numbers aren’t always as gaudy as his fantasy owners have come to expect. He’s still capable of 325-yard 3 TD games, but sometimes (like last week) 238 yards and 1 TD is enough for the Pats to win. This week feels like it will be closer to the former rather than the latter however.

The Houston pass defense has looked far more susceptible with Jonathan Joseph out of the line-up and with his hamstring still not 100% he’s listed as questionable for Monday Night. On the season the Texans are allowing 235 passing ypg with 20 TDs – but over the last three weeks with Joseph missing they are allowing 352 ypg and 7 TDs.

Running Game Thoughts: Most readers may be surprised to learn that the Patriots are second, behind the Texans, in rushing attempts on the season with 401. Stevan Ridley is receiving almost 19 carries per game with 9 rushing TDs and he’s been a more than adequate fantasy RB1 after being drafted in the RB2-RB3 range. Shane Vereen who was drafted one round ahead of Ridley in last year’s draft is starting to carve out a role and has shown big play ability, but Ridley is the true workhorse of the offense.

The second ranked Texans run defense offers a tough matchup for Ridley this week. Houston is allowing only 87.6 ypg on the ground and has given up only 2 rushing TDs on season. Don’t expect the Patriots to abandon the run altogether, as they may have done last season, but do temper your expectations.

Tom Brady: 345 pass yds 3 TDs
Brandon Lloyd: 45 rec yds
Wes Welker: 90 rec yds, 2 TDs
Aaron Hernandez: 80 rec yds
Stevan Ridley: 75 rush yds / 10 rec yds
Danny Woodhead: 15 rush yds / 35 rec yds, 1 TD
Shane Vereen: 35 rush yards

Prediction: Patriots 30, Texans 24 ^ Top