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

Create An Account  |  Advertise  |  Contact      

Inside the Matchup
Week 16

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




 Predictions - YTD
Rk Staffer W L %
1 Smith 39 17 69.6
2 Caron 38 17 69.1
3 Anderson 38 18 67.9
4 Marcoccio 31 23 57.4

Rams @ Buccaneers - (Smith)

Passing Game Thoughts: Third-year pro Sam Bradford leads the St. Louis offense, and though he’s yet to live up to his status as a No. 1 overall draft pick, he’s on his third different offensive coordinator in three years and has few reliable weapons. Those are some of the reasons he’s just 20th in fantasy points among quarterbacks, though he did collect a season-high last week after throwing for 377 yards and three scores against the Vikings. His receivers are of little note, with the exception of oft-injured Danny Amendola. The quick slot receiver has played in just seven full games this year and has at least five receptions in each of those contests, and is a safe WR3 this week against a weak Buccaneers pass defense.

Tampa Bay is dead last in the NFL against the pass and tied for second-to-last in touchdown throws allowed. No team has surrendered more fantasy points to quarterbacks or wide receivers than they have, and only eight teams have given up more fantasy points to tight ends.

Running Game Thoughts: Steven Jackson has been the lone bright spot over the years for a putrid Rams team, and the only player fantasy owners have been able to count on in that time. However, he’s nearing 30 years of age, and while still powerful, is not quite what he has been. Jackson is 18th in fantasy points at running back, has just three games with at least 80 yards rushing this year and has only scored three times. He’s a risky play this week against Tampa, even as a flex option.

The Buccaneers’ rush defense is a total reverse of their passing defense. They are the league’s number one team against the run and have yielded the fewest yards per carry, but are tied for 16th in rushing scores given up and tied for ninth in fantasy points allowed to running backs.

Sam Bradford: 285 pass yds, 2 TD, 1 INT
Danny Amendola: 90 rec yds, 1 TD
Chris Givens: 75 rec yds
Brandon Gibson: 45 rec yds, 1 TD
Lance Kendricks: 30 rec yds
Steven Jackson: 55 rush yds / 35 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: Josh Freeman is 13th in fantasy points at the quarterback position and has thrown multiple touchdown passes in nine of his 14 games this year. Yet hasn’t been able to pick up large chunks of yards, and his total of 279 yards last week against New Orleans was his highest output since Week 7. However, he didn’t throw multiple touchdowns against the Saints, and in fact didn’t throw any, but did toss four interceptions and had a brutal day for fantasy owners who were expecting big things against a previously awful Saints defense. At least wideout Vincent Jackson did something in that contest, catching six balls for 81 yards, marking the fifth time in seven games that he broke the 80-yard mark. Jackson remained in the top-five in fantasy points at his position, and forms a potent duo with Mike Williams, though each has a challenge on their hands this week against the St. Louis pass defense.

The Rams are tied for 12th-fewest fantasy points allowed to quarterbacks, have given up the eighth-fewest fantasy points to wideouts and tied for 14th-fewest fantasy points allowed to tight ends. They’re ninth in the league against the pass, and just three teams have surrendered fewer passing scores than St. Louis this year.

Running Game Thoughts: Rookie Doug Martin has had a terrific year, ranking third in fantasy points among running backs with over 1,200 rushing yards, 10 touchdowns and nearly 400 receiving yards. But he bombed last week at a crucial time for fantasy owners, running for a season-low 16 yards against the Saints. Martin has just one rushing score over his last three games and has failed to reach 60 yards on the ground in three of his last four outings. Yet we’d still place him as a RB1 this week versus the Rams, who have been solid but unspectacular against the run this season.

St. Louis fell to 16th in rush defense after allowing over 200 yards to Adrian Peterson last week. They’re also tied for third-most rushing scores given up, but have yielded only the 12th-most fantasy points to opposing backs this season.

Josh Freeman: 255 pass yds, 1 TD, 1 INT
Vincent Jackson: 85 rec yds
Mike Williams: 60 rec yds, 1 TD
Dallas Clark: 35 rec yds
Tiquan Underwood: 25 rec yds
Doug Martin: 105 rush yds, 2 TD / 40 rec yds

Prediction: Buccaneers 24, Rams 20 ^ Top

Raiders @ Panthers - (Smith)

Passing Game Thoughts: Carson Palmer is 12th in fantasy points at the quarterback position, and has had some outstanding statistical efforts, but interceptions have hindered his overall fantasy production. He’s thrown 14 picks this season, and only last week broke a string of nine consecutive games with at least one interception. Palmer’s receiving corps leaves plenty to be desired, though fantasy owners have surely been satisfied with the overall work of tight end Brandon Myers, who has 72 catches for 743 yards and four touchdowns, and is 10th in fantasy points at his position despite hitting a rough patch the last couple weeks. Denarius Moore is Oakland’s top wideout, ranking 30th in fantasy points at the position, but is somewhat inconsistent and hasn’t gained at least 50 yards in his last five outings. The Raiders take on Carolina this week, which is a difficult match-up for them.

The Panthers are 10th in pass defense and tied for 11th in passing touchdowns surrendered. They are tied for eighth-fewest fantasy points permitted to quarterbacks and fifth-fewest allowed to wideouts, but have allowed the 13th-most fantasy points to tight ends.

Running Game Thoughts: Fantasy owners (and especially Raiders fans) have been waiting and waiting and waiting for Darren McFadden to live up to the promise he showed coming out of Arkansas. While there have been occasional flashes, injuries have helped derail him, and even when healthy his performances have been up-and-down. McFadden, who is 24th in fantasy points at the running back position, did run for 110 yards last week, but also got 30 carries. We don’t expect quite the same number of totes for him this week, but the Panthers have had varied success against the run and we like McFadden as a RB2 in this match-up.

Carolina is 17th against the run, tied for 16th in rushing scores allowed and are tied for 20th in YPC yielded. However, they’ve allowed the most receptions and second-most receiving yards in the league to running backs, and have given up the fifth-most fantasy points to players at that position.

Carson Palmer: 270 pass yds, 2 TD, 1 INT
Denarius Moore: 70 rec yds, 1 TD
Brandon Myers: 65 rec yds, 1 TD
Darrius Heyward-Bey: 40 rec yds
Rod Streater: 25 rec yds
Darren McFadden: 80 rush yds, 1 TD / 25 rec yds
Mike Goodson: 30 rush yds / 35 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: Cam Newton has stopped turning the ball over in bunches and for the most part continues to run effectively, though he gained just seven yards last week. He’s risen to third in fantasy points at his position, due in part to having thrown multiple touchdowns in five of his last six outings and a five-game streak without any turnovers. Newton’s play has also helped raise the fantasy status of two players – wideout Steve Smith and tight end Greg Olsen. Though Smith is just 20th in fantasy points at his position for the season, he’s caught two touchdowns in his last three games and has 100 yards twice in that span as well. Olsen is the number five tight end in terms of fantasy points and he also has two touchdowns over his last two games. Each should fit comfortably into fantasy lineups this week a Raiders team that has been generous to opposing passing attacks.

Oakland is 27th in pass defense and tied for 23rd in passing touchdowns allowed. They’ve yielded the ninth-most fantasy points in the NFL to quarterbacks, the 10th-most to wide receivers and the sixth-most to tight ends.

Running Game Thoughts: Jonathan Stewart was out last week due to an injury, which led to DeAngelo Williams getting 93 yards on 22 carries. And though the team’s two rushing scores were taken in by Mike Tolbert – with each coming from 1-yard out – Williams did find the end zone on a 45-yard reception. With Stewart again possibly sitting, both Williams and Tolbert can be considered flex options versus an Oakland team that has had trouble against the run this season.

The Raiders are 21st both against the run and in yards per carry ceded, and are tied for 29th in rushing scores allowed. Those numbers translate to fantasy gold for opposing backs, whom have picked up the fifth-most fantasy points in the league against Oakland.

Cam Newton: 270 pass yds, 1 TD, 1 INT / 40 rush yds, 1 TD
Steve Smith: 90 rec yds, 1 TD
Greg Olsen: 55 rec yds
Brandon LaFell: 45 rec yds
Louis Murphy: 25 rec yds
DeAngelo Williams: 85 rush yds, 1 TD / 30 rec yds
Mike Tolbert: 40 rush yds, 1 TD / 15 rec yds

Prediction: Panthers 28, Raiders 21 ^ Top

Patriots @ Jaguars - (Smith)

Passing Game Thoughts: Tom Brady is second in the NFL in fantasy points, having thrown for nearly 4,300 yards and 30 touchdowns with just six interceptions and four rushing scores. He’s been doing this despite missing his top weapon, Rob Gronkowski, who has been practicing but will be limited even if he does return this week. That means more of Wes Welker and Aaron Hernandez, with each being solid options this week against the Jaguars. Brandon Lloyd can be considered a WR3 because he’s seen his production increase with 17 catches for 279 yards the past two weeks.

Jacksonville is 24th in the league against the pass and tied for 13th in passing scores allowed. They’ve surrendered the 10th-most fantasy points to quarterbacks, but are tied for 12th-fewest fantasy points yielded to wideouts and tied for 14th-fewest to tight ends.

Running Game Thoughts: Stevan Ridley has been the feature back for the Patriots most of the season, and even though he ceded carries to Danny Woodhead last week, we think that was due mostly to the wet conditions. Ridley is 10th in fantasy points at the running back position, has 10 touchdown runs and last week had a string of six straight games with a touchdown run snapped. He should find his way back into the end zone this week and be considered a RB1 against Jacksonville, who has arguably the worst rush defense in the league.

No team in the NFL has allowed more rushing yards this season than the Jaguars, who are also second-to-last in rushing scores surrendered and have yielded the second-most fantasy points in the league to opposing running backs.

Tom Brady: 325 pass yds, 3 TD, 1 INT
Wes Welker: 100 rec yds
Aaron Hernandez: 90 rec yds, 1 TD
Brandon Lloyd: 65 rec yds, 1 TD
Deion Branch: 35 rec yds, 1 TD
Stevan Ridley: 110 rush yds, 2 TD
Danny Woodhead: 30 rush yds / 25 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: The Jaguars have little passing game to speak of, with Chad Henne continuing to trot out there, but he’s of little use for fantasy owners. Neither is Justin Blackmon, Marcedes Lewis or any other player in the Jacksonville passing game with the exception of the unheralded Cecil Shorts. Shorts is 17th in fantasy points among wideouts, is closing in on 1,000 receiving yards for the year and has scored seven times. Against the Patriots this week, he’s a top fantasy option.

The Patriots have the fourth-worst pass defense in the league statistically, and only three teams have given up more touchdowns through the air than they have. New England has allowed the third-most fantasy points to quarterbacks, tied for the seventh-most to wide receivers and the fourth-most to tight ends.

Running Game Thoughts: With Maurice Jones-Drew likely out again this week, the running will once again come down to Montell Owens. He was strong a couple weeks ago against the Jets, with over 90 yards and a touchdown, but had just 47 yards last week against the Dolphins. Owens isn’t someone we’d recommend fantasy owners use because we fully expect the Jaguars to fall behind early, and the Patriots have been strong against the run most of the season.

New England is 11th in the NFL against the run, tied for 12th in rushing touchdowns allowed and is seventh in yards per carry permitted. They have also surrendered the 12th-fewest fantasy points in the league to running backs.

Chad Henne: 225 pass yds, 2 TD, 2 INT
Cecil Shorts: 115 rec yds, 1 TD
Justin Blackmon: 40 rec yds
Marcedes Lewis: 35 rec yds
Jordan Shipley: 25 rec yds, 1 TD
Montell Owens: 60 rush yds

Prediction: Patriots 38, Jaguars 17 ^ Top

Vikings @ Texans - (Smith)

Passing Game Thoughts: Christian Ponder may have scored with his recent marriage to Samantha Steele, yet he’s done anything but score in fantasy terms. The second-year pro is 25th in fantasy scoring among quarterbacks, hasn’t thrown for even 160 yards in his last four games and has three contests in which he’s thrown for less than 100 yards. Not having Percy Harvin has obviously hurt his production, because the rest of the team’s wideouts are nondescript. Occasionally, tight end Kyle Rudolph will be useful, but his inconsistency has been costly at times for fantasy owners. Even with a solid match-up for the Minnesota passing game, we can’t recommend any player from that area of the team be utilized by fantasy owners.

Houston’s recent struggles against the pass have cost them statistically – they have dropped to 18th in pass defense and tied for 25th in passing scores yielded. They have given up the 14th-most fantasy points to quarterbacks, tied for seventh-most fantasy points permitted to wideouts and allowed the fifth-most fantasy points to tight ends.

Running Game Thoughts: Adrian Peterson is the best running back in the game, and that’s pretty much the long and short of it. There’s not a whole lot to analyze here – Christian Ponder turns around, hands it off to AP, and he runs. Far. Peterson leads all running backs in fantasy scoring this season, has run for 210 or more yards in two of his last three games, and is closing in on the all-time single-season record for rushing yards. He’ll have a challenge this week against Houston, but there’s no reason to expect him to slow down now.

The Texans have the league’s fifth-ranked run defense and are 12th in yards per carry allowed, but no team has given up fewer scores on the ground than they have. Houston’s penchant for stopping runners from scoring has led them to being the toughest team in the NFL for running backs to pick up fantasy points against this year.

Christian Ponder: 195 pass yds, 1 TD, 2 INT
Jerome Simpson: 60 rec yds
Michael Jenkins: 55 rec yds
Kyle Rudolph: 35 rec yds
Jarius Wright: 15 rec yds, 1 TD
Adrian Peterson: 120 rush yds, 2 TD / 20 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: Matt Schaub is 16th in fantasy points among quarterbacks, and though he’ll give fantasy owners the occasional great game, is more suited as a back-up. He’s thrown for more than 270 yards just three times this year and has multiple touchdown throws in fewer than half his games. Thankfully, when he does throw it, Andre Johnson is on the other end. The former Miami Hurricane overcame a slow start and has risen to eighth in fantasy scoring among wide receivers. Johnson had 151 receiving yards last week and has had at least 110 yards in four of his last seven games, and at least 85 yards in six of his last eight contests. There has been one side effect to his production though, as tight end Owen Daniels has fallen off the fantasy radar. He’s eight in fantasy scoring at his position but has not gained 50 yards in his last four contests and has scored only once in his last six games.

The Vikings are 23rd in the league against the pass and tied for 21st in passing touchdowns allowed. Only five teams have given up more fantasy points to quarterbacks, and Minnesota has also allowed the 11th-most fantasy points to both wideouts and tight ends.

Running Game Thoughts: It can be argued that this game features the top two running backs in the NFL, but it can’t be argued that it features the top two fantasy backs. We spoke about Adrian Peterson already, but Arian Foster is also having a great season. His total of 16 touchdowns is actually five more than Peterson, yet he has just shy of 500 fewer rushing yards. Still, Foster is a fantasy monster who should be in store for yet another highly productive day.

Minnesota is 13th in the league against the run, tied for 12th in rushing scores yielded and eighth in yards per carry given up. They are tied for having allowed the 14th-fewest fantasy points in the NFL to opposing running backs.

Matt Schaub: 255 pass yds, 1 TD
Andre Johnson: 110 rec yds, 1 TD
Owen Daniels: 55 rec yds
Kevin Walter: 45 rec yds
DeVier Posey: 20 rec yds
Arian Foster: 105 rush yds, 2 TD / 20 rec yds
Ben Tate: 25 rush yds / 15 rec yds

Prediction: Texans 27, Vikings 21 ^ Top

Colts @ Chiefs - (Caron)

Passing Game Thoughts: Rookie of the Year candidate Andrew Luck was unable to secure his team a playoff spot with a win in Week 15, but fantasy owners can’t be too upset with his performance as the quarterback scored multiple touchdowns for the 10th time in 14 games this year. His two touchdowns came on just 186 yards but added to an impressive season that has extended to his receivers including T.Y. Hilton who went into double-digit fantasy points for the fourth time in the past five weeks. Unfortunately Hilton’s success hasn’t exactly rubbed off on the team’s top scorer at the position, Reggie Wayne who has managed just one touchdown over his past six games, including a 14-yard performance in Week 15, which marked his low point in 2012.

Although Wayne disappointed against a good Texans defense, things should be better in Week 16 when he and the Colts go up against a Kansas City secondary that has allowed double-digit catches to opposing teams’ wide receivers in five straight games. The problems in Kansas City run much deeper than just their secondary and disappointing pass rush, but those things certainly haven’t helped to keep opposing teams off the scoreboard. Luck’s 25 touchdowns on the season have been a bit scarred by the 18 interceptions, but the Chiefs currently sit tied for the fewest interceptions (7) in the league this year. Fantasy owners who have rode Luck throughout his impressive rookie campaign should feel comfortable trotting him out there again in their championship game against one of the league’s worst defenses.

Running Game Thoughts: With Donald Brown now out for the year, rookie running back Vick Ballard has taken over as the full-time back in Indianapolis, having earned the first 100-yard rushing performance of his career a week ago against the Texans. Ballard’s 105-yard game can be added to the 94 yards he had in Week 14, leaving him just one yard shy of 200 over his past two games, which is certainly more than anyone could have expected from him coming into the year. The one problem for Ballard has been that he is not considered much of a goal line threat. With just one rushing touchdown on the year, Ballard has seen his goal line touches split up amongst Donald Brown, Delone Carter, Mewelde Moore and even Andrew Luck. With Moore fumbling in Week 15 and Carter ruled out for this week, Ballard should get the lion’s share of the touches throughout the game and could even find himself having the opportunity to punch the ball in from short yardage should the situation arise.

In Week 16, Ballard will likely be in fantasy championship rosters as he goes up against a Kansas City Chiefs defense that is fresh off of allowing the Oakland Raiders running backs to rush for 199 yards against them. The Chiefs have allowed double digit fantasy points (standard scoring) to opposing running backs in 11 of their 14 games this season, including back-to-back games of more than 20 points allowed. With the Colts trusting Ballard to touch the ball 12 or more times in nine straight games, there’s no reason to believe that he won’t get plenty of opportunities in Week 16. Given how bad Kansas City’s offense has been this year, it would not be surprising to see the Colts go up multiple scores in the first half, which would very likely mean that Ballard touches the ball over 20 times.

Andrew Luck: 230 pass yds, 2 TD, 20 rush yds
Reggie Wayne: 70 rec yds, 1 TD
T.Y. Hilton: 50 rec yds, 1 TD
Donnie Avery: 45 rec yds
Dwayne Allen: 40 rec yds
Vick Ballard: 100 rush yds, 1 TD, 10 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: The dreadful 2012 season for the Kansas City Chiefs continued in Week 15 when they were shut out against a horrible Oakland Raiders defense that previously ranked in the bottom two in the league. Brady Quinn has now failed to throw a single touchdown pass in five of the six games he has played meaningful snaps in, including two straight games without a score against less-than-stellar defenses. It certainly doesn’t help that Dwayne Bowe is out for the season, but there is a lot more that goes into this team being bad than just one player. Former first round pick Jon Baldwin has not stepped up in any way and has failed to catch a pass in four of the past five weeks. At this point, the team’s best receiving option is tight end Tony Moeaki who has caught passes in six straight games. Unfortunately, Moeaki is not certain to play on Sunday with a head injury, so this passing game is to be avoided.

Given how terrible the Chiefs have been on offense, the Indianapolis Colts defense might actually be a sneaky good waiver wire pickup going into Week 16. Although they’ve allowed at least one passing touchdown against them in every game this season, the Colts have held opposing QB’s to only that one touchdown in six of their past eight contests. They’ve been up against some bad offenses, but never anything quite like this. Kansas City has only scored over 16 points once since Week 4. With the Colts hoping to lock up a playoff spot with a win, the Chiefs could be in for more heartbreak this week.

Running Game Thoughts: After putting together five straight games of over 100 total yards, Jamaal Charles took only nine carries in the Chiefs’ 15-0 loss to the Raiders in Week 15. The baffling coaching decision goes to show that this offense is not to be trusted in any way. Charles is the only piece of the puzzle that has been fitting whatsoever but in order for him to be effective, he has to get the ball. Romeo Crennel and the coaching staff in Kansas City will be lucky to make it out of 2012 with their jobs intact, but as long as they’re in charge, it’s tough to rely on him.

Unfortunately, most fantasy owners who have Charles are unlikely to have a much better option so they might need to stick it out and hope for the best as Jamaal goes up against the Colts defense that has surrendered nearly 17 fantasy points per game to opposing running backs this season. Indianapolis is fresh off of allowing 178 rushing yards to the Texans a week ago and have allowed more than 125 total yards to opposing backs in three of their past four games. With the passing game in total shambles, the Chiefs should look to get the ball in the hands of their best playmaker, Charles, but we just never know what they’re going to do. With your fantasy championship on the line, risking your season on a player in this offense is a risky proposition, but if you have to do it, Charles is the one guy who could still end up with a big day in this horrendous offense.

Brady Quinn: 140 pass yds, 1 INT
Dexter McCluster: 30 rec yds
Terrance Copper: 30 rec yds
Jonathan Baldwin: 20 rec yds
Tony Moeaki: 40 rec yds
Jamaal Charles: 105 rush yds, 1 TD, 15 rec yds

Prediction: Colts 24, Chiefs 10 ^ Top

Browns @ Broncos - (Caron)

Passing Game Thoughts: The turnaround in Cleveland is still a work in progress but Brandon Weeden is looking like a player who will be a part of that comeback. The 29-year-old still has more interceptions (17) than he does touchdowns (14) but his rapport with receivers Josh Gordon and Greg Little continues to get better as the season goes on. Perhaps most importantly, though, Weeden seems to have no problem dumping the ball off to the most talented player in the offense, Trent Richardson, who currently sits tied for third in the league among running backs with 48 receptions on the year.

A quick glance at this matchup might actually entice fantasy owners who see a Broncos defense that has allowed multiple passing touchdowns against them in seven of their past nine games, but a closer look would also show that the Denver defense has also intercepted at least one pass in every game during that stretch while avoiding allowing even one 300+ yard passer against them on the season. Weeden has thrown just three touchdowns with five interceptions since Week 11 and against a team that can rush the passer as well as Von Miller and the Broncos do, his knack for turnovers could be a recipe for disaster.

Running Game Thoughts: With only a 2.9 YPC average over his past four games, a skeptic might say that Trent Richardson has hit the much talked about “rookie wall.” However fantasy owners haven’t been complaining as the Browns rookie has been able to put together six touchdowns during that stretch, while continuing to play an integral role in the team’s passing attack. Despite his team’s lack of offensive firepower, Richardson has made the most of his opportunities this season and his 12 touchdowns put him firmly in the top-10 scorers at his position. We’d certainly like to see him get things going a bit more in the yardage department, but as long as he’s scoring, it’s hard to complain. Richardson has now been in double-digit fantasy points (standard scoring) in every game since Week 1, except against the Colts in Week 7 when he left the game midway through because of an injury.

Week 16 could be Richardson’s toughest matchup yet as he goes up against a Broncos run defense that is averaging just 12.7 fantasy points per game (standard scoring) this season. Denver is currently on a streak of six straight games without allowing a rushing touchdown, including holding Ray Rice, Darren McFadden and Jamaal Charles out of the end zone during that stretch. None of those players have been as good as Richardson at the stripe this year, so don’t doubt the rookie quite yet. If Cleveland gets near the goal line, he is their one and only real option.

Brandon Weeden: 190 pass yds, 1 INT
Josh Gordon: 60 rec yds
Greg Little: 50 rec yds
Ben Watson: 35 rec yds
Trent Richardson: 60 rush yds, 1 TD, 25 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: After missing the entire 2011 season with a neck injury, quarterback Peyton Manning now leads the NFL’s hottest team toward the playoffs. Denver wrapped up the AFC West a week ago with their victory over the Ravens. Although the Broncos have won nine straight games, Manning himself is actually going through a bit of a slump, having failed to throw multiple touchdown passes in back-to-back games for the first time this season. Manning hasn’t exactly been bad, but running back Knowshon Moreno seems to be going through a career resurgence and has broken into Manning’s totals. On the positive end, wide receiver Eric Decker has had back-to-back nice games with eight catches in each contest, totaling 214 yards and a score. Demaryius Thomas wasn’t so lucky last week, though, as he totaled just 13 yards on four catches, his worst game of the season.

Despite the lull from Manning and Thomas, fantasy owners shouldn’t be panicking. Thomas was targeted nine times a week ago and the trust he has from Manning still makes him a top-10 option against the Cleveland Browns. Some will worry because of the play of Joe Haden who will likely be matched up against Thomas throughout much of the game, but Thomas is the kind of receiver who can still thrive against good corners. He did so earlier this season against Devin McCourty and the Patriots as well as Brandon Flowers and the Chiefs. With the Broncos moving the ball as well as any offense in the league, look for Manning to have plenty of scoring opportunities against a defense that just allowed Kirk Cousins to throw for 329 yards and two scores against them a week ago.

Running Game Thoughts: Where has THIS Knowshon Moreno been for the past couple of seasons? After spending most of the year as a healthy scratch, an injury forced the Broncos to reactivate the former first round pick who has made the most of his opportunity since taking over in Week 12. Moreno has now rushed for back-to-back 100+ yard games including a touchdown in each contest and has also caught 14 passes since taking the starting job. Of course, it helps that the Broncos have been blowing out their opponents so he has been able to touch the ball 24+ times in every game.

That stretch of high touches should continue again in Week 16 as the Broncos host the Cleveland Browns. The Browns offense hasn’t exactly been firing points on the board as of late, so if the Broncos get up early, look for plenty more of Moreno who could end up being one of the most valuable waiver wire additions of the season. Cleveland has allowed eight rushing touchdowns over their past six games, including allowing three scores on the ground to the Griffin-less Redskins a week ago. If Cleveland can’t slow down the Broncos passing game, Moreno should get at least a handful of chances to score this week. Even if Ronnie Hillman touches the ball as much as he did (14 carries) in Week 15, Moreno should continue to get the bulk of the carries and just about all of the money touches near the stripe. Jacob Hester’s goal line score should be on the radar, but don’t expect that to become a regular play call for the Broncos.

Peyton Manning: 270 pass yds, 2 TD
Demaryius Thomas: 90 rec yds, 1 TD
Eric Decker: 60 rec yds, 1 TD
Brandon Stokley: 30 rec yds
Joel Dreessen: 25 rec yds
Jacob Tamme: 20 rec yds
Knowshon Moreno: 100 rush yds, 2 TD, 20 rec yds
Ronnie Hillman: 30 rush yds, 10 rec yds

Prediction: Broncos 31, Browns 13 ^ Top

Bears @ Cardinals - (Caron)

Passing Game Thoughts: There’s no denying that when it comes to physical tools, Jay Cutler is among the most highly gifted quarterbacks in the league. For a few years in Chicago, the argument was made that he simply didn’t have the receivers to make use of his skills. But even with Brandon Marshall in 2012, the flaws in Cutler’s game have become too much to look past. The quarterback has turned the ball over 18 times this season while having thrown just 17 touchdown passes. Given Marshall’s monster numbers this year, Cutler still has only one game where he has thrown for more than two touchdowns and has reached the 20 fantasy point mark (standard scoring) one time. Other than Marshall, who remains an every week elite option as a receiver, there simply isn’t another player in this passing game, Cutler included, who can be considered an every week starter.

If there has ever been a week to trust Jay Cutler, it’s...not this week. Cutler and the Bears will be up against the Arizona Cardinals defense that has quietly been not just good, but elite against opposing quarterbacks all season. In fact, since their bye in Week 10, the Cardinals have allowed just four passing touchdowns against while forcing a ridiculous 13 interceptions in just five games. They’ve also held the Falcons, Jets and most recently Lions quarterbacks to three or fewer fantasy points during that stretch. Cutler has the physical talent to break out for a big game at any moment but the opportunity just doesn’t appear to be great in this one. With a touchdown or 90+ yards in 11 straight games this season, Brandon Marshall remains the only player in the Bears offense who makes a strong play in Week 16.

Running Game Thoughts: He hasn’t scored a rushing touchdown since Week 9 and it appeared for awhile as if Matt Forte’s days as an every week starter may be nearing their end, but the Chicago Bears running back has seen a resurgence in recent weeks. He has been over 90 total yards in each of his past three games even though the Bears have struggled to move the ball overall. With Michael Bush now having been placed on the IR, Forte figures to see an increase in carries where it counts at the goal line. Another big positive for Forte is that he has seen his usage in the passing game increase in recent weeks.

We’ve seen him be a PPR monster in the past, so given that Forte is being passed to more often, it would not be surprising to see him near the top of the team leaderboard in catches this week against a good Arizona pass defense. What we’ll really be looking for him to do, though, is get back to the century mark on the ground against the Cardinals’ mediocre run defense. Arizona has allowed 13 or more fantasy points to opposing running backs in six straight contests, including a disastrous effort against the Seahawks just two weeks ago wherein they allowed nearly 300 total yards and four touchdowns to the Seattle backs. It’s hard to trust Forte as a touchdown scorer, but he’s about as good as it gets when it comes to yardage. Get him in your lineup this week if you can, as he should be good for double-digit fantasy points.

Jay Cutler: 185 pass yds, 1 TD, 2 INT
Brandon Marshall: 70 rec yds, 1 TD
Alshon Jeffery: 40 rec yds
Kellen Davis: 35 rec yds
Matt Forte: 90 rush yds, 1 TD, 30 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: If you’re seriously considering anyone in the Arizona passing game at this point, chances are that you’re probably playing for the toilet bowl in your fantasy league. This horrific passing game has become the joke of the league as even in a shocking win over the Lions in Week 15, the team still failed to throw a single touchdown pass for the fifth straight game. During that stretch, the duo of John Skelton and Ryan Lindley have thrown 10 interceptions and lost three fumbles. There hasn’t been a more embarrassing pass offense in recent memory as even the 2011 Jaguars under Blaine Gabbert never went more than two games without a passing score.

Those who are delusional enough to be starting someone in the Cardinals aerial attack are probably still trotting out Larry Fitzgerald for their fantasy team. Despite being sixth in the NFL in targets with 131 on the season, Larry Fitzgerald has fallen all the way down to outside the top 40 in standard scoring fantasy leagues. He has scored only four touchdowns on the year and has only one 100-yard game and this week he will be up against a Chicago Bears defense that has forced six more interceptions on the year than they have allowed touchdowns. Needless to say, no one in the Cardinals passing game is worth fantasy consideration this week. Not even Larry Fitzgerald.

Running Game Thoughts: It doesn’t always have to be pretty in order to be good. Cardinals running back Beanie Wells proved that this past week when he rushed for three touchdowns on just 67 yards during Arizona’s crushing victory over Detroit. Of course, it helps that Wells and the Cardinals were the beneficiaries of numerous turnovers which got them near the goal line before they even got on the field, but you can’t deny that he was productive with the opportunity he had. Wells has now turned in two multi-touchdown performances since returning in Week 12. Unfortunately his other two games were complete duds where he rushed for just 40 total yards.

If you had to put your money on a “boom” or a “bust” from Beanie Wells in Week 16, the wise choice would probably be to not trust the former first round pick. Arizona simply hasn’t been very good at running the ball this season and unless you believe that the Cardinals defense is going to put him within the 10 yard line a couple times again this week, it’s hard to trust that he’s going to get into the endzone against a Bears defense that ranks third-best in the NFL against opposing running backs. Truthfully, though, if anyone is going to score, it’s probably going to be Wells. The question just comes down to whether or not Arizona actually makes an appearance on the scoreboard this week.

Ryan Lindley: 130 pass yds, 2 INT
Larry Fitzgerald: 40 rec yds
Andre Roberts: 25 rec yds
Beanie Wells: 50 rush yds, 1 TD, 10 rec yds

Prediction: Bears 17, Cardinals 10 ^ Top

49ers @ Seahawks - (Caron)

Passing Game Thoughts: A few weeks back the controversy was whether or not Jim Harbaugh’s decision to bench former No. 1 overall pick Alex Smith for 2011 2nd round pick Colin Kaepernick was the right one. After his performance against the New England Patriots this past Monday night, the discussion is likely over. In just his fifth career start, Kaepernick did something that Alex Smith had never done in 75 starts when he threw for four touchdown passes in a single game. The total came with just 216 yards passing and one of his lower totals of only 28 yards on the ground, but Kaepernick shined in the spotlight of the 49ers’ biggest game of the year thus far. The pressure wasn’t too much for him. Wide receiver Michael Crabtree has now re-affirmed himself as the top pass-catcher on the roster with over 300 yards on 23 catches over the past three games, including two touchdown receptions against the Patriots. Unfortunately Crabtree’s excellence has come along with the complete fall off of Vernon Davis who has now gone four straight weeks without reaching more than 15 yards passing.

Kaepernick and the 49ers will be up against perhaps their toughest test yet when they head to Seattle to challenge the Seahawks’ top-ranked fantasy pass defense in Week 16. The Seahawks have allowed just 12 passing touchdowns against them on the year, fewest in the league, while forcing 16 interceptions. Their big-bodied cornerbacks have been a thorn in the side of the league’s more physical receivers who are used to abusing the smaller, more speed-based corners. Seattle has held opposing quarterbacks to one or fewer touchdowns in 11 of their 14 games this season, including holding Alex Smith to just 140 yards and a score in Week 7. Kaepernick is certainly a different problem for the Seahawks to plan against, but were able to hold Cam Newton in check earlier this season, so mobile opposing quarterback isn’t something that’s new to them. Kaepernick has been very good and it’d be hard to sit him at this point for many fantasy owners, but if you have another good option, it might be smart to play it safe this week.

Running Game Thoughts: A stellar 2012 continued this past week for Frank Gore as he reached 17 fantasy points against the Patriots, continuing a streak of four straight games where he has gotten into double digit fantasy points (standard scoring). His name might not be what it once was when it comes to elite running back status, but Gore has been about as consistently good this season as any back in the league. For a runner who was considered the No. 2 on many teams who drafted him, Gore has played like an RB1 and should be trusted to continue to do so even against good defenses.

In fact, the Seattle defense is one of those that Gore should be particularly well-trusted against. After allowing an average of 112.5 yards per game to opposing running backs over their past eight games, the Seahawks have seen their defense stumble a bit to stop the run while continuing to excel against the pass. Their defensive struggles against the run actually began against Gore and the 49ers all the way back in Week 7 when he rushed for a season-high 131 yards against them in a very tight 13-6 victory for the 49ers. Not only that, but Gore added 51 additional yards as a receiver in that game, also a season-high. We won’t be expecting quite that kind of production from him this week, but the old saying that you ride the horse that got you here certainly rings true this week for Frank Gore owners.

Colin Kaepernick: 160 pass yds, 1 TD, 1 INT, 40 rush yds
Michael Crabtree: 80 rec yds, 1 TD
Randy Moss: 30 rec yds
Vernon Davis: 15 rec yds
Frank Gore: 90 rush yds, 1 TD, 20 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: When you consider how slow the season started off for rookie quarterback Russell Wilson, it would have been hard to believe that he would be where he is now heading into the fantasy championship weeks. As the No. 13 highest-scoring (standard scoring) quarterback this season, Wilson has now given fantasy owners serious reason to trust him in the final week of most fantasy seasons. Wilson’s 205 yard, one touchdown performance through the air against the Bills in Week 15 was made into a monster fantasy day when he added a ridiculous 92 yards and three touchdowns on the ground, his first scores as a rusher all season. Sidney Rice and Golden Tate were both held out of the end zone for the second straight week, but each player did have more than 60 yards receiving in the game.

Wilson has now scored multiple touchdowns in six of his past seven games, a stretch which goes back to the last time he went up against the San Francisco 49ers who held him to just 122 yards passing and no touchdowns with an interception. Unfortunately for him, he’ll be up against the 49ers again this week. San Francisco has been very good against opposing quarterbacks in 2012, having allowed one or zero passing touchdowns in 10 games this season, including each of their past three contests. We’ve seen the maturation of Russell Wilson as a passer this year before our very eyes, but he’s still a rookie and this is a very hard-nosed defense that does not allow a lot of points. Sure, we saw them get carved up a bit by Tom Brady in the second half of Week 15’s game, but as good as Wilson has been lately, he’s still no Brady. Certainly we hope for better than what we got from him when these teams met in Week 7, but don’t be expecting the 49ers to surrender another 400 yard day as they did last week. Fantasy owners should also pay close attention to injury reports when it comes to Sidney Rice’s status. If he is unable to play, lower your expectations for Wilson as well.

Running Game Thoughts: Those who doubted Marshawn Lynch’s breakout 2011 season have been quieted in 2012 as “Beast Mode” has been in full effect throughout the season. The Seahawks tailback has now rushed for more than 100 yards in eight games this season, adding 10 touchdowns on the ground. He wasn’t put in the category of being an elite back going into the season, but he has certainly proven to be one this year as he has been the most consistent fantasy running back this side of Arian Foster.

Lynch has just two games all year where he has checked in with fewer than 8 fantasy points and should be able to continue that this week even against a tough San Francisco defense. If you trusted Lynch the previous time these two teams met this year, you were likely satisfied with the results as he cracked the 100 yard mark on the ground with just 19 carries. That game was a particularly hard-nosed one in which neither team put many points on the board, but the running games were very important for both teams. Despite Russell Wilson’s improvements as a passer, this offense still runs through Lynch who has been one of the few backs who has been able to run effectively against the punishing San Francisco defense over the past few seasons.

Russell Wilson: 205 pass yds, 1 TD, 1 INT, 30 rush yds
Golden Tate: 60 rec yds
Sidney Rice: 50 rec yds, 1 TD
Zach Miller: 25 rec yds
Marshawn Lynch: 80 rush yds, 1 TD
Robert Turbin: 30 rush yds

Prediction: 49ers 17, Seahawks 14 ^ Top

Bills @ Dolphins - (Marcoccio)

Passing Game Thoughts: Ryan Fitzpatrick threw two interceptions in a blowout loss to Seattle and what will likely be one of his last starts as a Buffalo Bill. For the third straight season, the Bills passing attack has regressed from the start of the season to the end. Steve Johnson scored on a 20-yard touchdown pass on the weekend after GM Buddy Nix talked this offseason about finding No. 1 wide receiver talent. Johnson is still a solid player but failed to build on his 2011 season and is no longer viewed as a No. 1 receiver by his team and is best viewed a solid WR3 by his fantasy owners. A franchise quarterback could revive his production next season, but he’s a risky start for your championship game despite a favorable matchup.

Running Game Thoughts: With Fred Jackson on IR, C.J. Spiller is getting the chance to prove himself as a workhorse back, and he’s made the most of that opportunity. Last week he rushed for 103 yards on 17 carries, including a nice 14-yard touchdown run. Spiller is the only legitimate playmaker on the Bills offense, and his fantasy owners have to love seeing him turned loose for their playoff run. His speed and dynamic ability give him the potential for a monster day that can almost single handedly win you your fantasy championship.

The Dolphins run defense is a tough matchup, however. The team has allowed only 100.9 yards on the ground per game and just eight rushing touchdowns on the season. Spiller has the ability to be matchup proof, however.

Ryan Fitzpatrick: 235 pass yds 2 TDs, 2 INTs / 15 rush yds
Steve Johnson: 50 rec yds, 1 TD
Donald Jones: 40 rec yds
T.J. Graham: 15 rec yds
Scott Chandler: 35 rec yds, 1 TD
Tashard Choice: 15 rush yds / 5 rec yds
C.J. Spiller: 135 rush yds, 1 TD / 45 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: Rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill has had a successful rookie season, and he just may be the long-term quarterback that has been eluding the Dolphins franchise since Dan Marino hung ‘em up. That doesn’t mean that you want him starting for your fantasy team in the championship game, however. Tannehill has some nice tools—size, a strong arm, nice mobility—but right now he doesn’t have enough weapons to produce big numbers even if he were a little more polished. Brian Hartline and Anthony Fasano are capable of productive outings, but neither is consistent enough to trust during this all-important week. If you are desperate, perhaps you could do worse, but hopefully those that have made it this far have better options.

The Bills pass defense improved by leaps and bounds from a yardage standpoint this season (225.4 ypg), but the team has yielded 23 passing touchdowns, making them a good matchup for you fantasy QBs and WRs. Unfortunately, the Dolphins really don’t have anyone to take advantage of the matchup.

Running Game Thoughts: Reggie Bush has regained his role as the feature back after being in a timeshare with second-year back Daniel Thomas during the games in November. In last week’s game, Bush fell back into some of the bad habits from his days in New Orleans, as he tried to bounce a few runs outside instead of exploding through holes that were there for him. However, he still managed to gain 104 yards on his 21 carries. Even rookie Lamar Miller was used more than the aforementioned Thomas last week, as Thomas saw only one carry. Thomas suffered a knee injury in the game and was placed on IR this week, leaving Miller with the backup role.

The Bills run defense was starting to show signs of improvement a few weeks ago but has fallen back to its place as one of the league’s worst units. The Bills allow 144.1 yards per game and have given up a league-leading 22 touchdowns on the ground. The next closest team, Jacksonville, has “only” allowed 18 rushing touchdowns. Reggie Bush could be a difference maker for fantasy teams in their championship this week.

Ryan Tannehill: 215 pass yds 1 TD, 1 INT / 35 rush yds
Brian Hartline: 55 rec yds, 1 TD
Davone Bess: 40 rec yds
Rishard Matthews: 15 rec yds
Anthony Fasano: 40 rec yds
Reggie Bush: 135 rush yds, 1 TD / 25 rec yds
Lamar Miller: 35 rush yds, 1 TD / 5 rec yds

Prediction: Dolphins 27, Bills 24 ^ Top

Chargers @ Jets - (Marcoccio)

Passing Game Thoughts: In a battle between likely lame-duck coaching staffs, the disappointing Chargers take on the disappointing Jets in what may very well be a half-empty Met Life Stadium on Sunday. Mercifully, NBC took this game off of its prime-time schedule. Phillip Rivers has now disappointed two seasons in a row, leaving one to wonder if there’s any chance of a resurrection or if mediocrity is his destiny after a once-promising future. Norv Turner’s fate was already sealed weeks ago, but prior to last week’s contest, Turner inexplicably proclaimed that the reason Danario Alexander has been so successful since he was signed by the Chargers was because opposing defenses weren’t paying any attention to him. That lead the Panthers to pay attention to him on Sunday, and Alexander was held without a catch. Alexander may receive the attention of Antonio Cromartie this week, leaving him a risky start during your championship game.

Since Darrelle Revis was lost for the season, Cromartie has played at an extremely high level and has shut down most opposing top receivers . The second-ranked Jets pass defense has allowed only 191.1 passing yards per game and 17 passing touchdowns on the season.

Running Game Thoughts: Starter Ryan Matthews was having a disappointing third season and has now been placed on IR with a broken clavicle. As everyone is aware, Matthews broke his other collarbone on his first carry of the preseason. According to an orthopedic surgeon, as reported by Rotoworld, breaking both collarbones within a four-month span is less likely than getting struck by lightning. Mathews owners should consider themselves very unlucky. With backup Ronnie Brown also injured, veteran grinder Jackie Battle is expected to get the start this week, with some Curtis Brinkley sprinkled in. Battle had some success earlier this season, as well as last season as a member of the Chiefs, but he is not a recommended start during this important time of year despite a decent matchup against a Jets team ranked 29th against the run.

Philip Rivers: 280 pass yds 2 TDs, 2 INTs
Danario Alexander: 45 rec yds
Robert Meachem: 45 rec yds
Antonio Gates: 60 rec yds, 1 TD
Jackie Battle: 65 rush yds / 5 rec yds
Curtis Brinkley: 35 rush yds / 45 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: In his last seven games, Mark Sanchez has thrown four touchdowns with 10 interceptions and five lost fumbles. Mercifully, Rex Ryan has decided to bench him for this week’s game. Of course it wouldn’t be the Jets without some kind of controversy, as third-string quarterback Greg McElroy will get the start over backup Tim Tebow. Feeling betrayed and misled, Tebow has told sources that he will ask for a trade or a release at the end of the season. McElroy is a second-year quarterback out of Alabama who has shown poise and accuracy during the preseason and during a relief appearance against Arizona three weeks ago. He will not be able to put the Jet offense on his back, however. I shouldn't have to say this, but stay away from all players involved in the Jets passing game this week.

Running Game Thoughts: The Jets continue to show faith in the pedestrian Shonn Greene, despite the fact that second-year back Bilal Powell has appeared to be the far more explosive option in recent weeks. Greene has been adequately productive, so I can’t kill the coaching staff for involving him in the game-plan, but more of Powell would be better. Powell isn’t an elite talent, but unlike Greene, who lacks vision and lateral movement, Powell is able to find yardage when the offensive line fails to create a running lane. In a RBBC approach, neither back is a “must start,” but either could produce solid numbers in a game where the Jets will surely look to establish the run.

The Chargers run defense has been one of the few positives in their disappointing season. The team allows only 97 yards on the ground per game and has yielded just seven rushing touchdowns on the season. So while the Jets should certainly be trying to establish a run game, it could be difficult for them to gain traction.

Greg McElroy: 215 pass yds 1 INT
Braylon Edwards: 45 rec yds
Jeremy Kerley: 25 rec yds
Jeff Cumberland: 30 rec yds
Shonn Greene: 60 rush yds / 15 rec yds
Bilal Powell: 45 rush yds, 1 TD / 20 rec yds

Prediction: Chargers 17, Jets 13 ^ Top

Redskins @ Eagles - (Marcoccio)

Passing Game Thoughts: Robert Griffin III is expected to be back in the lineup after fellow rookie Kirk Cousins spelled him during a knee injury. Cousins played very well in RGIII’s place, but it’s fairly obvious that Griffin gives the Skins their best chance to win and will be in the lineup as long as his knee is healthy. Pierre Garcon owners are hopeful that the knee checks out, as Garcon is clearly Griffin’s favorite target and has been very productive since overcoming his foot issues. Even if Griffin sits again, Garcon owners will likely want to keep him in their lineups since he was heavily targeted by Cousins. Still, Griffin being active gives Garcon the most upside. No other Washington pass catcher can be started with confidence, as the ball gets spread around between Aldrick Robinson, Santana Moss, Leonard Hankerson, and Logan Paulsen when it’s not going to Garcon, and therefore none have been consistent producers. While I’m a fan of Hankerson’s talent, don’t be fooled by his two-touchdown performance last week and make him a “sneaky” start in your championship game. It’s much more likely that he catches two balls for minimal yardage than he scores twice again.

After looking dead in the water in the midst of an eight-game losing streak, the Eagles defense has come out to play the last two weeks. They shut down Tampa Bay’s passing game completely in Week 14, and the pass rush harassed Andy Dalton all night the following week. Philadelphia's season is lost, but in a game where the team can at least dash the playoffs hopes of a division rival, don’t be surprised to see the Eagles fired up once again.

Running Game Thoughts: Rookie running back Alfred Morris keeps rolling along in his role as a feature back, last week setting the Redskins’ rookie record for rushing yards and rushing touchdowns. Morris has gained 1,322 yards on the season and has nine touchdowns. While he’s not used much in the passing game, Morris has become one of the safest starts at RB in fantasy football. Last week he showed that he could be successful running out of a more traditional pro style offense with Cousins under center, rather than the spread-option style with which many doubters credited his unexpected success.

The Eagles abandoned the much maligned “wide 9” defense that was susceptible to power running schemes, and the unit has performed more than adequately since. They have allowed 122 yards per game and nine rushing touchdowns on the season.

Robert Griffin III: 265 pass yds 2 TDs, 1 INT / 45 rush yds
Leonard Hankerson: 50 rec yds
Pierre Garcon: 80 rec yds, 1 TD
Santana Moss: 25 rec yds
Logan Paulsen: 25 rec yds, 1 TD
Alfred Morris: 85 rush yds, 1 TD / 5 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: Michael Vick is now fully recovered from his concussion, but the starting gig belongs to rookie Nick Foles for the rest of the season. It is all but a certainty that Vick will not be back next season, so the decision to see what Foles brings to the table makes sense. Foles has had his ups and downs but has looked like he could be a solid option for the team. Despite a disastrous first start, Foles has thrown five touchdown passes and four interceptions in his six games. Jeremy Maclin has been Foles’ main target, and veteran slot receiver Jason Avant has seen increased targets as well. Tight end Brent Celek missed the game last Thursday night but is practicing this week and is probable to play against the Redskins.

Washington’s pass defense is giving up the third most passing yards per game (285.3) and has allowed the second most passing touchdowns in the league, with 28. This should be a good matchup for Foles to further solidify himself as the future in the eyes on next year’s coaching staff.

Running Game Thoughts: Bryce Brown shined in his first two career starts but struggled mightily in his next two, and he now returns to his role as backup to Shady McCoy. McCoy has passed all of his concussion tests and is expected to be back in the starting role in Week 16. It’s always a tough call whether or not to plug in a player for his first game back from injury, but if McCoy is being sent out there by the team in a lost season, the likelihood of his not being ready to play is slim. Brown, who gained over 300 yards and scored four times in his first two games while hitting the hole decisively, should see some carries this week. But with a limited role and coming off of two poor efforts, he is not a fantasy option against a tough Washington run defense.

Nick Foles: 285 pass yds, 2 TDs, 1 INT
Damaris Johnson: 20 rec yds
Riley Cooper: 55 rec yds
Jeremy Maclin: 90 rec yds, 1 TD
Brent Celek: 60 rec yds, 1 TD
Bryce Brown: 25 rush yds, 1 TD / 5 rec yds
LeSean McCoy: 85 rush yds / 35 rec yds

Prediction: Redskins 30, Eagles 24 ^ Top

Saints @ Cowboys - (Marcoccio)

Passing Game Thoughts: Drew Brees bounced back from a pair of subpar games to light up the Buccaneers for 307 passing yards and four touchdowns. The Saints passing offense is like a well-oiled machine when Brees is on the top of his game. He is one of the best at utilizing his weapons and spreading the ball around to whichever target breaks open. Tight end Jimmy Graham has had a disappointing season since suffering from a high ankle sprain mid-season. Perhaps he’s still feeling some lingering effects, as the former Hurricane doesn’t seem to have the quickness and ability to separate that made him such a nightmare matchup problem last season and earlier this year. Marques Colston is Saints' the top option at wide receiver and is always capable of big production. Less consistent but equally capable of producing is slot receiver Lance Moore, who’s role increased with Graham's lack of production and when Darren Sproles was out with injury.

Dallas is the 14th-ranked pass defense in the league, giving up 225.1 yards per game and 19 touchdown passes on the season. With only 33 sacks on the season, they haven’t been getting a ton of pressure on opposing passers, but Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne have done a very good job in coverage.

Running Game Thoughts: Mark Ingram’s role and production have expanded over the second half of the season, to the point that he should garner fantasy consideration even in the crowded New Orleans backfield. Ingram rushed for 90 yards and a touchdown against the top-ranked Buccaneer run defense last week while being asked to run out the clock in a blowout win. Darren Sproles receives a sprinkle of carries but is mostly used as a weapon in the passing game, while Pierre Thomas and Chris Ivory have seen their snaps decrease with Ingram’s expanding role over the last two weeks. It’s hard to trust any back on this team (other than Sproles in PPR leagues), but in a pinch Ingram could be a decent flex option.

Drew Brees: 285 pass yds 3 TDs, I INT / 15 rush yds
Devery Henderson: 20 rec yds
Marques Colston: 85 rec yds, 1 TD
Lance Moore: 60 rec yds
Jimmy Graham: 45 rec yds, 1 TD
Mark Ingram: 75 rush yds, 1 TD / 15 rec yds
Darren Sproles: 25 rush yds / 45 rec yds, 1 TD

Passing Game Thoughts: Dez Bryant was able to play through his broken finger last week, and he finished the day with 59 yards and a score. Tight end Jason Witten ended a long touchdown draught, scoring for the second time this season. Easily on pace to break the record for receptions by a tight end, with 97 after 14 games, his owners don’t have much to complain about despite the lack of end-zone trips. Miles Austin rounds out a dangerous trio of weapons for quarterback Tony Romo, who has rebounded from a mid-season slump and is a great option during you fantasy championship game while facing the second worst pass defense in the NFL.

Running Game Thoughts: DeMarco Murray has scored each week since returning from his foot injury. The physical Murray goes up against the Saints second worst run defense, which has allowed 146.3 rushing yards per game. With Murray's fresh legs, the Cowboys would be wise to use his early and often to soften up the defense and to keep the Saints high-scoring offense on the sideline for as long as possible.

Tony Romo: 270 yds passing 2 TDs, 1 INT / 10 rush yds
Miles Austin: 55 rec yds, 1 TD
Dez Bryant: 60 rec yds, 1 TD
Dwayne Harris: 35 rec yds
Jason Witten: 85 rec yds
DeMarco Murray: 95 rush yds, 1 TD / 20 rec yds
Felix Jones: 20 rush yds / 35 rec yds

Prediction: Cowboys 37, Saints 31 ^ Top

Falcons @ Lions - (Anderson)

Passing Game Thoughts: In a blowout victory over the Giants last week, Matt Ryan put up numbers that have been typical of his season thus far, throwing for 270 yards, three touchdowns, and no interceptions on 23 completions (28 att). In most games this year Ryan has been very efficient, and he currently ranks second in completion percentage and seventh in quarterback rating. The beneficiaries of such proficiency have been spread pretty evenly between wide receivers Julio Jones and Roddy White and tight end Tony Gonzalez, who have all been fairly consistent throughout the season—although each has had a couple down games as well. This week the Falcons travel to Detroit to face a Lions defense that has had its ups and downs but are surprisingly pretty good at stopping the pass. Currently the Lions have let up the 11th fewest pass yards in the league and are tougher than the average versus opposing fantasy QBs. The past two games, the pass defense has been even stingier, giving up just 277 passing yards and no touchdowns combined, with one interception. While the Lions have faced a few good passing teams this season, they may not be prepared or have the personnel to deal with the Falcons, who can attack deep (Jones), mid-range (White), and short (Gonzalez).

While this matchup is not the perfect condition for the Falcons to exploit, I see no reason why they can't put up similar numbers to what they have been averaging all season. Ryan will once again be a very safe start as a mid-range QB1, especially if Detroit turns this game into a shootout, which is very likely. While Jones has not had a huge yardage day in a while, he has been scoring consistently and is always a threat for a deep touchdown, making him an excellent mid-range WR1. Roddy White struggled a bit last week (2 rec, 16 yds) and is most certainly still hobbled from a minor knee injury, but he should play and is therefore a solid WR2, at worst. As for Gonzalez, he is having one of the best years of his career as he approaches 100 catches and 1000 yards, so I expect nothing short of a solid TE1 performance against a Lions team that has been particularly generous to opposing tight ends.

Running Game Thoughts: The Falcons run game seems to be either in a bit of a transition period or just struggling overall, as starting running back Michael Turner seems to be losing carries and slipping in performance as the year goes on, although his touchdown production has remained fairly steady (has one each in his last three games). It seems as though the Falcons would like to give the majority of the work to running back Jacquizz Rodgers, who is much younger and shiftier than Turner. But Rodgers has just not done much with the opportunities he is being given (just one touchdown all year, and under four yards per carry). At this point, from a fantasy perspective, Turner remains the RB to own and start, but the gap between him and Rodgers is closing—to a point where it is almost the dreaded RBBC.

This week the matchup does not make either Falcons RB a particularly exciting start, as the Lions rank as one of the 10 toughest defenses for RBs to score against. On the bright side, the Lions run defense the past six weeks (9 rush TDs allowed) has been much worse than the first eight weeks (2 rush TDs allowed), including giving up 91 yards and three rushing touchdowns to the lowly Cardinals offense last week. Since a shootout may be in order this week, the likelihood of a few goal-line carries increases dramatically, meaning even if the big rushing yards are not there, a touchdown or two might be. In this scenario, starting Turner makes the most sense because he is still the goal-line back, even if the rest of his game has struggled. While I am fairly certain his days of 100-plus yards and two or more touchdowns are long gone, Turner can be useful as a flex play or high-end RB3 in a matchup like this, where the scoreboard operator should be busy. Don’t expect the world from Turner this week, but the chances of a touchdown are pretty good, and that’s obviously very valued in the fantasy world.

Matt Ryan: 290 pass yds, 2 TDs, 1 INT
Julio Jones: 75 rec yds, 1 TD
Roddy White: 70 rec yds
Tony Gonzalez: 55 rec yds
Michael Turner: 70 rush yds, 1 TD
Jacquizz Rodgers: 25 rush yds, 15 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: The Lions passing game revolves around two players at this point: quarterback Matthew Stafford and wide receiver Calvin Johnson. That makes both players matchup-proof, although Johnson is slightly more than Stafford. Johnson, as many people know, is on pace to break Jerry Rice’s single-season reception yardage mark, and Stafford is doing all he can to get Johnson the ball, with a league-leading (by a good margin) 174 targets. With no secondary receiving option at this point, Johnson will see double-digit targets from here on out, regardless of what the defense does to stop him. While Stafford is doing what he can to help Johnson break the record, and he is certainly putting up some big yardage numbers (4th most), he is not the most efficient in doing so, completing just 59.5 percent of his passes and throwing 17 touchdowns to 15 interceptions. Because of the yardage numbers alone, Stafford is at worst a low-end QB1 most weeks. But his upside this season does have a lower ceiling because of his inefficiencies. This week, the Lions will be contested by a Falcons pass defense that is average in most areas, however their 13:18 ratio of touchdowns to interceptions allowed is among the best in the league. Consequently, the Falcons are among the 12 toughest defenses for QBs to score against and are even a bit tougher against WRs.

The matchup is not ideal for Stafford and company, considering that the Falcons strength of limiting touchdowns and causing interceptions has been a Lions weakness this year. But all hope is not lost. Because Stafford and Johnson have just two games to break Rice’s record (and we all know they want to), they will be throwing it up as much or more than usual, and fantasy owners will reap the benefits of a shootout this week. While Stafford may be inefficient, I would be surprised if he threw for less than 300 yards this week, making him a solid QB1 regardless of the touchdown and interception numbers. As for Johnson, he should once again be a top three option at WR, with a ton of targets, a good amount of catches, and a good shot at a touchdown or two. No other Lions receiver is worth a look this week, even at a flex position.

Running Game Thoughts: While running back Mikel Leshoure is nowhere near a stud fantasy RB nor even exciting to watch, he seems to have a nose for the end zone; and in the fantasy world, that makes him a very valuable commodity. Leshoure has fewer yards than such fantasy duds as Shonn Greene, Michael Turner, and Reggie Bush, but he does have eight rushing touchdowns (in just 12 games), which is more than a bunch of very successful backs like Frank Gore, Jamaal Charles, and C.J. Spiller. Even in a blowout loss to the Cardinals last week, Leshoure managed to get a touchdown (and 55 rush yards) and turn in a decent RB2 day against a formidable defense.

This week's matchup is a bit better (on paper), as the Falcons defense has given up 14 rushing touchdowns and has been fairly generous on the ground, ranking 25th in rushing yards allowed. From a fantasy perspective, the Falcons have also been among the 10 most generous teams to opposing RBs, although they have been much tougher the past eight weeks compared to the first six, where they gave up five touchdowns and over 700 yards. While the Falcons offense should force the Lions into a shootout, the good news for Leshoure owners is that a big part of his value comes from carries inside the 10-yard line, and those attempts should come this week as well. Leshoure is not going to carry your fantasy team to victory on his own, but he is actually a great complimentary player and should be considered a solid RB2 in an above-average matchup at home. Backup running back Joique Bell has had his ups and downs this year and should not be considered at this point because of his inconsistent use.

Matthew Stafford: 315 pass yds, 2 TDs, 2 INTs
Calvin Johnson: 125 rec yds, 1 TD
Tony Scheffler: 40 rec yds
Mikel Leshoure: 70 rush yds, 1 TD, 10 rec yds
Joique Bell: 20 rush yds, 20 rec yds

Prediction: Falcons 30, Lions 28 ^ Top

Titans @ Packers - (Anderson)

Passing Game Thoughts: The long term prospects of quarterback Jake Locker are still up for debate, but right now he does not look great, as he has regressed in each of his last three games. Against the Jets last week, Locker looked totally inept, throwing for just 149 yards while getting sacked four times (0 TD, 0 INT). He did put up 43 yards and a touchdown on the ground, but his upside is limited because of his lack of mobility outside of the pocket and his inconsistency in throwing the ball. Even more frustrating is the fact that the Titans have a decent receiving corps with Nate Washington, Kenny Britt, and Kendall Wright. Locker and his receivers are probably no more than fringe fantasy starters in a good matchup, but this week they travel to Green Bay with a banged up offensive line and probably without Kendall Wright (ribs).

The Packers rank right around the middle in most defensive passing statistics but excel in two key areas that should negatively affect Locker’s performance. They are fifth in quarterback sacks, and with a very thin offensive line, Locker may be running for his life all game long. Also, the Packers rank fourth in completion percentage allowed (55.7), and Locker is one of the more inaccurate starting quarterbacks in the league, with just a 57.6 completion percentage. These factors, along with the fact that the Packers have been the sixth toughest team for QBs to score against the past three weeks, means Locker should be firmly planted on your bench this week. He is not even a top 15 option at QB. As for the receivers, Wright is expected to miss this game due to injury, so you are looking at Washington and Britt only. While I like the pure talent of both these guys, the Packers have been very tough against WRs this year, and the targets have been too inconsistent to recommend either guy as anything more than a low-level WR3.

Running Game Thoughts: After starting the year off horribly, Chris Johnson has turned out a pretty decent season overall, ranking seventh in rushing yards. While Johnson is still a boom or bust candidate most weeks, his explosive abilities makes him an enticing start in fantasy football. Last week he put on a typical performance, rushing 20 times for 28 yards; then he added one more run for 94 yards and a touchdown, making his final stat line look well above average. The fact that Johnson gets the vast majority of the carries in this offense makes him an intriguing start in any matchup. This week, the Tennessee offensive line that has been blamed for Johnson's poor start to the year has been hit hard by the injury bug, and it was evident Monday night against a poor Jets rush defense that the holes just weren't there. Also, the Packers high-scoring offense may very likely get out to a big lead early, forcing the Titans to abandon their running game in the second half.

On a positive note, the Packers have been fairly generous to opposing running backs, allowing 4.5 yards per rush on the season. But back to the downside for Johnson: they have allowed more than 100 yards rushing in a game just five times this year, and aside from a game against possible MVP Adrian Peterson, the Packers defense has been better at home than on the road. The decision to start Johnson this week is a tough one if you're weighing those factors. Just don't forget that Johnson is capable of breaking off a huge touchdown run at any time (like last week) even if he is stuffed on most of his other carries (like last week). For me, I like to gamble a bit, and if you made it this far, you are probably looking to score big and forget about playing it safe. If this sounds like your scenario, I would not hesitate starting Johnson as a mid to high-end RB2 this week, and cross your fingers that he breaks off one of his patented long touchdown runs.

Jake Locker: 195 pass yds, 1 TD, 2 INTs, 25 rush yds
Nate Washington: 55 rec yds
Kenny Britt: 55 rec yds
Chris Johnson: 80 rush yds, 1 TD, 10 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: Against a very talented but depleted Chicago defense, Aaron Rodgers threw for 291 yards and three touchdowns (0 INT) and made four receivers startable players in fantasy leagues by spreading the ball around. While Rodgers remains a must start QB1 in all formats every week (this one included), the question seems to be more about which receivers are start worthy and how each will produce. For this matchup, right away I would eliminate Jordy Nelson because he has not practiced yet this week (hamstring), and the Packers are likely to rest him again so he can be fully healthy heading into the playoffs. The safest receiver in my mind from here on out is Randall Cobb. He led the team in targets and reception again last week and, while he is on a bit of a touchdown slump, his catches and yardage add up quickly, making him a low-end WR1. I like Greg Jennings as the second best option, as he should be back to full health and is probably itching for a break-out game. I’d start him as a mid-range WR2. James Jones stunned many people last week when he caught three touchdown passes (although had only 60 yards receiving), and while I think he will have a decent high-end WR3 game this week, he obviously will not come close to the fantasy points he put up last week. Finally, tight end Jermichael Finley has been up and down of late but should be a pretty safe high-end TE2 in a game where Green Bay should have little problem lighting up the scoreboard.

The Titans, by the way, have actually been pretty tough against the pass the past five games, intercepting 10 passes and allowing only six touchdowns. They have allowed just over 200 yards per contest in those five games. A closer look at the matchups show a clearer picture, however, as three of those five games have been against some of the league’s worst passing offenses (NYJ, JAX, MIA), and one was against the run-heavy Texans. This week they face an elite passing team (13th in yards, 2nd in touchdowns, 2nd lowest in interceptions) playing in their last regular season home game.

Running Game Thoughts: It is a real shame that such a high-powered offense has such a pitiful running game, but the Packers continue to win in spite of it. It is even more of a shame this week because the Titans offer an above-average fantasy matchup, being the fourth easiest defense for RBs to score against (tougher the past three weeks, however). This week, the starter by default is supposed to be Alex Green, but as I write this, he has yet to practice because of a mild concussion. While Packers coaches seem confident Green will be able to play, that certainly remains to be seen, given the state of concussions and how the league is currently handling them. If Green does not play, the backfield duties will probably be a committee led by veteran running back Ryan Grant, who has been on the team for only two games but was second in carries and yards last week (8 for 32 yds) behind Green. The other members of the committee would be DuJuan Harris and John Kuhn, both long shots to make much of an impact. In my mind, the only guy remotely worth considering this week would be Green if he is indeed cleared to play. However, even he would be nothing more than a moderate flex option in an above-average matchup. If you have made it this far in your fantasy season, you are probably not relying on any of these guys anyway, so hopefully you have much better options at this point. All Packers running backs have very limited upside due to their lack of talent and the team's pass-heavy attack.

Aaron Rodgers: 290 pass yds, 3 TDs, 1 INT
Randall Cobb: 85 rec yds, 1 TD
Greg Jennings: 70 rec yds, 1 TD
James Jones: 55 rec yds
Jermichael Finley: 50 rec yds
Alex Green: 50 rush yds, 15 rec yds

Prediction: Packers 30, Titans 20 ^ Top

Bengals @ Steelers - (Anderson)

Passing Game Thoughts: There is both good and bad news for the passing attack this week against the Steelers. First, the bad news, starting with the fact that in their previous meeting this year the Bengals had easily their worst passing performance, with just 105 passing yards, one touchdown and one interception. Second, that game was a home game for the Bengals, and obviously this one is not. Third, the Steelers are, on the season, the toughest defense for fantasy QBs to score points against. Finally, the Bengals are coming off their second worst passing performance of the season (albeit in a win), where Andy Dalton threw for just 127 yards and one touchdown.

Now to brighten the mood, a little good news, starting with the fact that the Steelers have a very banged-up secondary, which includes the loss of cornerback Ike Taylor, their best cover corner. The injured secondary has left the Steelers vulnerable the past three weeks, as they have evened out and now rank 16th in fantasy points allowed to opposing QBs. Another thing working for the Bengals is that have a lot to play for this week, as a victory would get them into the playoffs and knock the Steelers out from contention. While Dalton has stayed relatively consistent in the season’s second half, compared to last year’s slump, his production has dipped from earlier in the year. He is still just a moderate-risk, moderate-reward fantasy QB, making him nothing more than a lower-end QB2 this week, especially considering the less than ideal matchup. As for the receiving corps, there are only two Bengals fantasy owners should be concerned with: WR A.J. Green, and TE Jermaine Gresham, who together combined for 12 of the 13 completions thrown by Dalton last week. While Ike Taylor almost shut down Green in their previous meeting, his absence means a big boost for the receiver this week. Green was start-worthy, regardless, but now becomes a top five option at the position. As for Gresham, he has had a nice second half of the season, and while he has nowhere near the upside of the game’s most talented tight ends (Gronk, Graham, etc.), he is catching enough balls, as the Bengals second most targeted player in the pass game, to make him a high-end TE2 this week.

Running Game Thoughts: In the previous meeting between these two teams, running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis put up a respectable but unexciting 69 yards on 18 carries against a very good Pittsburgh defense. Since that game, the Steelers and Green-Ellis have gone in opposite directions, with the Steelers defense giving up a good amount more points and yards per game and BJGE gaining more yards per game on average. In his last five games, Green-Ellis has averaged over 100 yards per game and has scored three times, compared to the season’s first nine games, where he only scored three times combined and never hit the 100-yard mark. While “the law firm” is still far from being an elite fantasy RB, he has shown durability and a consistent amount of touches in a better-than-average Bengals offense, making him an intriguing start, depending on the matchup.

While the Steelers' defensive stats make them look pretty imposing, they have declined over the course of the season and have actually been a much more favorable matchup the past few weeks than at any other point this season. While they are still not the best defense for opposing fantasy RBs to exploit, they have given up three rushing touchdowns and over 90 yards per game the past four weeks, including 81 yards and a touchdown to the Cowboys' Demarco Murray last week. The thing that may hurt Green-Ellis is that the Bengals may look to exploit the injuries in the Pittsburgh secondary by throwing the ball more than running it this time around. Because of this, and the fact that despite his recent productivity, Green-Ellis is still not a real dynamic talent, don't expect much from him this week, especially playing in Pittsburgh. As a flex-type player, I would not argue against starting BJGE this week, as the workload and consistency has been there of late, just do not expect anything more than high-end RB3 numbers in this somewhat difficult matchup.

Andy Dalton: 230 pass yds, 2 TDs, 1 INT
A.J. Green: 100 rec yds, 1 TD
Jermaine Gresham: 55 rec yds
BenJarvus Green-Ellis: 70 rush yds, 10 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: While the past two games have been losses for the Steelers, the return of Ben Roethlisberger has totally changed the values of Pittsburgh’s main weapons in the fantasy football world. Since returning from injury, Big Ben has thrown five touchdowns and for more than 600 yards, making him a steady QB1 in both matchups. That has also helped to recover the value of receivers Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown and tight end Heath Miller. The trouble this week is that the Bengals are now one of the better overall defenses in the league, and they have been the absolute toughest defense for QBs to score against over the past six weeks. Through that span, the Bengals have forced 10 turnovers and allowed just three touchdowns to opposing quarterbacks. To make matters worse, there seems to be a sense of panic in Pittsburgh, as questions about play-calling and offensive philosophy have surfaced in the local media. While it is tough to question Ben’s clutch factor, he is certainly under a lot of pressure this week, as a loss would eliminate the Steelers from playoff contention. Emotions will certainly be running high in this one, as division rivals will bring their best games to this battle. To me, the Bengals have less pressure on them, meaning perhaps a better performance.

Fantasy-wise, this matchup is far from ideal for the Steelers' key players, but there is still some value in starting a few of them. While the matchup brings Roethlisberger down a notch, the Steelers still have to rely on the pass game with such a struggling run attack. That means Big Ben should accumulate enough stats to make him a safe mid to high-end QB2. Wallace is still the best receiving threat the Steelers have, and while he may get a bit more defensive attention, I think he is a high-reward player and thus should be started as a high-end WR2. Brown did catch a touchdown in each of the past two games, which is unusual for him, and while I do not think he will go back-to-back-to-back in that category, he is catching enough balls to make him starter worthy, albeit as a low-end WR3 this week. Finally, Heath Miller has come on very strong of late, and Roethlisberger even stated that they want to get him more involved this week, so I see Miller as a very safe low-end TE1.

Running Game Thoughts: The Steelers run game has been a roller coaster this season, as they started the season off poorly, had a decent stretch in the middle where they looked productive, then turned back to being pretty bad these past few weeks. While Jonathan Dwyer remains the starter in name, Isaac Redman will see some touches and Rashard Mendenhall, recently a healthy scratch, will most likely be given a few looks to see if anyone can get this ground game going forward.

The trouble for the Steelers run game, both from an NFL and fantasy perspective, is that the Bengals run defense has improved much over the second half of the season and is currently one of the better units in football. They gave up 677 rushing yards and eight rushing touchdowns the first seven games of the season. In their past seven games, they have improved significantly, having given up just 526 rushing yards and only two rushing touchdowns. The Bengals are the 17th most generous defense to fantasy RBs (about average) on the season; but over the past five weeks, they are the second toughest in the league. The Steelers rushed for 148 yards and a touchdown in their previous meeting with the Bengals, but that was before Cincinnati seemed to turn their defense around, and I expect a much tougher road this time around. Even if this were a decent matchup for the Steelers, it would be tough to recommend any Pittsburgh back as anything more than a flex play simply because of their lack of productivity lately and the way the carries may be split. In a tough matchup like this one, however, I would totally avoid the headache, as the upside for any of the Steelers' running backs is extremely limited in this tough contest.

Ben Roethlisberger: 280 pass yds, 2 TDs, 1 INT
Mike Wallace: 80 rec yds, 1 TD
Antonio Brown: 55 rec yds
Heath Miller: 70 rec yds, 1 TD
Jonathan Dwyer: 40 rush yds

Prediction: Bengals 23, Steelers 20 ^ Top

Giants @ Ravens - (Anderson)

Passing Game Thoughts: Coming off their worst game of the season—and perhaps in recent memory—there is a lot of pressure on Eli Manning to step up his game before a playoff berth slips away. Their opponent this week, the Ravens, have continued to give up a healthy amount of yardage through the air (10th most) but continue to be stingy when it comes to giving up touchdown receptions (13; tied for first). Consequently, the Ravens are a bit better than average against fantasy QBs, although they have seen a handful dominate them this year. Knowing what is on the line, Eli will dig deep and come on strong, at least yardage-wise, making him a risky but interesting play as a mid-range QB2. As for the Giants receivers, Victor Cruz, despite an awful three catch, 15-yard performance last week, remains the best bet as a safe fantasy WR start this week. As a possession receiver similar to Cruz, Eric Decker had a huge game against the Ravens last week (133 yds, 1 TD). I like Cruz as a low-end WR1 this week and as a good bet to approach 100 yards, even if the score is not there. Hakeem Nicks has been a bit of a disappointment since coming back from injury a few weeks ago, but he is getting a decent amount of targets and does have the talent to bust out at any time. All things considered, I would start Nicks as a low-end WR2 this week, and as a moderate-risk, high-reward one at that. The only other passing game player worth considering is tight end Martellus Bennett, who had a lousy game last week (1 rec, 15 yds) but should bounce back to be a low-end TE2, as he had caught a touchdown in back-to-back games before last week.

Running Game Thoughts: As of the time of this report (Thursday evening), running back Ahmad Bradshaw had still not practiced and remains questionable to play Sunday. To me, this is a situation to monitor very closely because the Ravens provide an above-average matchup for fantasy RBs, as they have been the fourth most generous defense the past three weeks and the eighth most generous on the year. If Bradshaw is good to go, it will be both a blessing and a curse, as he will almost certainly be in a time-share with David Wilson while nursing his knee injury. If I owned both Bradshaw and Wilson, I would actually be hoping that Bradshaw is ruled out, as Wilson then becomes the bell-cow in a favorable matchup. If this happens I believe Wilson has enough upside, based on talent and matchup, to be a high-end RB2 in this game. He should see 18 or more touches against a vulnerable defense. If both Bradshaw and Wilson play, I would downgrade Wilson to nothing more than a low-end flex play, as he should still see some action but on a limited basis. In that case, Bradshaw becomes a decent but risky low-end RB2 play. The matchup is nice and he should see goal-line touches, but he carries the risk of splitting carries all game long and possibly re-injuring his knee. Monitor the injury reports closely in this one, as Bradshaw’s status considerably changes the outlook of the Giants' run game from a fantasy perspective. My projections, by the way, are if Bradshaw does play in this one, so adjust accordingly if he is out.

Eli Manning: 280 pass yds, 2 TD
Victor Cruz: 95 rec yds
Hakeem Nicks: 70 rec yds
Martellus Bennett: 45 rec yds, 1 TD
David Wilson: 35 rush yds, 15 rec yds
Ahmad Bradshaw: 50 rush yds, 1 TD, 10 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: Except for the first half of the Redskins game two weeks ago, quarterback Joe Flacco and the Ravens passing attack have been consistently bad the past three weeks and very up-and-down on the year overall. Last week at home against the Broncos, the Ravens could not get anything going and Flacco seemed under pressure on every throw, ending with 254 yards, two touchdown, and one interception on a terrible 20 for 40 passing effort. While the yards and touchdowns were not that bad, they mostly came in garbage time. If the Ravens are to get any kind of momentum going into the playoffs, this would seem to be the week to do it, as the Giants pass defense ranks 28th in yards given up and has allowed a league-worst 8.2 yards per attempt. With numbers like this, a secondary could be easily exploited by deep threat Torrey Smith, but Smith is questionable after suffering a mild concussion last week. At the time of this writing, he has not practiced yet. The other two main threats on the Ravens are wide receiver Anquan Boldin and tight end Dennis Pitta, who has come on strong lately after a midseason slump. Boldin was held without a catch last week and is obviously a risky start coming off such a weak performance, but if Smith is out, Boldin makes a sneaky WR2 play against a Giants defense that has given up the fourth most fantasy points to opposing WRs on the season.

The Giants are much tougher against opposing TEs (10th toughest), but Pitta has been hot the past few weeks and makes for a decent TE2 option, especially if Smith is out. As for Flacco himself, he has had his share of huge games this season (4 of 300-plus yds), so we know there is some upside there. But he has also stunk up the box score (6 with less than 200 yds), so there is plenty of risk involved in starting him. To me, the matchup is pretty juicy, especially in a home game, so I would rate Flacco as a safe mid-range QB2 with some upside. There are certainly better options out there, but Flacco should bounce back, especially if Torrey Smith does play. Speaking of Smith, my gut says he will probably be out, but if he is indeed cleared to play, I would actually start him as a WR2 because his skill set fits the Giants' weakness of giving up the big play, and his injury (concussion) should not limit him if the doctors say he is good to go. No other Ravens passing team member is worthy of a start this week, even in deeper leagues.

Running Game Thoughts: Although the run game still revolves around Ray Rice, there has been little to get excited about in recent weeks, as the struggles of the offense have really hurt Rice’s production. Last week the Ravens rushed for just 56 total yards (Rice had 38) against the Broncos, mostly because they fell behind so early that they were forced to go to the air and never caught up enough to get back to the ground. I’ve watched their last few games, and the play calling is head-scratching and their execution is consistently awful. The talents of Rice seem to be wasted, as the Ravens go to the air (and often fail) on downs that seem a perfect fit for Rice’s skill set. While many people thought a change of offensive coordinators would help Rice’s value, that certainly remains to be seen, as last week was a poor indicator of what the Ravens will do in a normal, closer game. This week the Ravens face a must-win situation for their playoff hopes against Giants team coming off an embarrassing loss.

On the year the Giants rank in the lower 10 of rush defenses, although they do not give up a lot of touchdowns on the ground. They are also coming off of three games in a row in which they gave up 100 or more yards on the ground, and two of the teams they faced (the Saints and Falcons) are not particularly good rushing offenses to begin with. If the Ravens do not give Rice 18 or more rushes this game, then they never will; it is obvious they struggle as a team without a good run game, and backup Bernard Pierce (who has been stealing around five carries per game from Rice lately) is likely out with a concussion. While it is tough to trust Rice as a stud RB right now, you have to start him in a matchup that looks much better than those of the past few weeks. Plug Rice into your starting lineup and expect low-end RB1 numbers this week.

Joe Flacco: 270 pass yds, 2 TDs, 1 INT
Anquan Boldin: 70 rec yds, 1 TD
Dennis Pitta: 55 rec yds
Jacoby Jones: 40 rec yds
Ray Rice: 85 rush yds, 1 TD, 15 rec yds

Prediction: Giants 28, Ravens 24 ^ Top